Don’t be grossed out when you first read this; rather, find it fascinating and forward-thinking, because it truly is. Here goes: It turns out there’s a milky-white substance that seeps from dandelion roots (there’s the ick thing) that can be utilized as a natural alternative to synthetic rubber in products (there’s the cool thing).
And so, Ford and The Ohio State University are all over this weed, much in the way the weed is all over your yard. The two are researching the potential of the dandelions’ said milky substance as a plastics modifier to help improve the impact strength of plastics, with the material possibly then capable of being used in places such as cupholders, floor mats and interior trim.
But not just any dandelion is up for grabs, much in the way you grab a dandelion from your yard. That’s because not all can make the cut as a sustainable resource for rubber. For this, it needs to be the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS, to its friends), which is being grown at The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). The team is also looking into guayule, a southwestern U.S. shrub, as a natural rubber, which is provided by OARDC and can also be grown domestically.
Being grown locally is a key component when Ford is considering new sustainable materials to use in vehicles, as is having a smaller carbon footprint to produce.
“It’s strange to see weeds being grown in perfectly manicured rows in a greenhouse, but these dandelions could be the next sustainable material in our vehicles,” said Angela Harris, Ford research engineer.
Before the dandelion-derived rubber can be put to use, Ford researchers will assess the initial quality of the material to evaluate how it will perform in a variety of plastics used in vehicles and to ensure it meets durability standards.
In keeping with its “Reduce, reuse and recycle” commitment to a global sustainability strategy, Ford is employing various nonmetal recycled and bio-based materials whenever possible, including using soy foam seat cushions, wheat straw-filled plastic for interior trim and recycled cotton from blue jeans as sound-dampening material. No word on whether there are plans for a greenhouse that grows blue jeans, though….