The demand for natural rubber? In 2004, the History Channel broadcast a Modern Marvels Special on Natural Rubber. My favorite quote from that special is “Our four most important natural resources are air, water, petroleum, and rubber.” (I would have argued for soil to be part of the list.) Nonetheless, while most people guess the first two, some also guess petroleum; almost no one imagines that rubber is fourth on the list.
Many Americans think that black colored rubber, like what we see in tires, seals and gaskets and hoses, is synthetic and derived from petroleum. In fact, this is far from true — natural rubber looks black when it is reinforced with carbon black filler — natural rubber is used to make about 50,000 different products. The rubber component of a passenger car tire may be 50% natural and 50% synthetic, but the higher the performance required the greater the proportion of natural rubber. Airplanes land on 100% natural rubber tires — if synthetic polymers were added these tires would not take the stress of landing and would explode. Truck tires are 95% to 100% natural rubber. All natural rubber has been harvested by tapping tropical rubber trees and the United States imports all we require. This is an enormous amount each year of about 1 million metric tons. However, we now face a significant supply problem. As Southeast Asia, China and Brazil expand and develop their economies, they need more and more rubber. Also, major rubber tree leaf drop diseases are rapidly spreading in Southeast Asian growing regions. So where shall we get the rubber we need?
To address this critical supply issue, OARDC scientists are developing an annual rubber root dandelion crop for Ohio farmers as quickly as we can. This crop plant, a cousin of our common dandelion, is being developed by improving plants collected from the wild from Kazakhstan by USDA in 2008. The species name is Taraxacum kok-saghyz, erroneously called Russian dandelion when it was grown at sites all over the United States during World War II. Our new selections are named Buckeye Gold — gold for the flowers and gold for the money we hope our farmers and rubber manufacturers will make. The quality of the rubber is almost identical to the rubber tree rubber. It is a root crop, but the rosettes can be used for feed or biofuels. Since it can be grown as an annual, we think that it will become part of our normal crop rotation. In 2013, we planted 8 acres at three OARDC research stations and on a local commercial farm, the largest North American planting in 70 years. We also began planting box studies to understand the yield potential of this new industrial crop. Since then we have used rapid phenotyping methods to select large plants with triple the rubber content, which are being interbred this spring. Germains Seed Technology of California has primed and pelletized improved seed for us and this has been planted on several acres. Its biggest challenge is weed control — we need to kill the common dandelions without killing the rubber dandelions — and a production scale is now underway to scale up effective results from a 2019 replicated field trial.
We also have developed new products and applications from latex extracted from guayule (Parthenium argentatum) a rubber-producing shrub from the Chihuahuan desert. This native species makes rubber in mark parenchyma cells but we can extract it by homogenizing the shrub and then separating the latex much like dairies separate cream from milk. This latex can be used to make medical and personal protective equipment safe to use even if you have Type I latex allergy, and guayule latex gloves are very soft and stretchy allowing them to be used without causing glove induced hand fatigue.
Dr. Katrina Cornish of Lee Enterprises Consulting, a top expert worldwide in natural rubber, hopes that farmers in Ohio and the southwestern states should quite soon be able to grow these new crops on a large enough scale (several million acres) to make the United States self-sustainable for natural rubber production, and then expand to allow this country to become a rubber exporting country! Many new rubber extraction refineries will be needed, creating many new jobs across the agribusiness continuum. The first of the rubber biorefineries, on a pilot scale, became operational in Wooster, Ohio, in December 2012, thanks to a Third Frontier grant from the Ohio Department of Development. OARDC scientists are actively working to make this crop and process commercially viable, and work closely with industrial (Cooper, Bridgestone and Ford) and academic (Oregon State University and the University of Guelph) consortium partners in the Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives.
Lee Enterprises Consulting is the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with over 150 highly qualified experts serving in this and many other areas. We offer a wide range of services in biofuels, biochemicals, biotechnologies, biomaterials, synthetic biology commercialization, feedstocks, and hemp/cannabis. The company has business and financial services like due diligence, feedstock availability, grants and loans and bio market research. The company also offers technical and engineering related services like techno economic analysis, environmental evaluations, feasibility studies, risk analysis and expert witness engagements. The company also has strategic partnerships in place to assist clients with insurance, legal, accounting, plant fabrication, feedstock procurement. With over 150 experts worldwide, Lee Enterprises Consulting also has experts in anaerobic digestion, fermentation, biomass, conversion technologies for things like tires and railroad ties, organic synthesis, fuel additives, ethanol gas, biodiesel fuel including algae biofuels, solid state and industrial fermentation, green energy grants, ag biotech, agricultural waste, alcohol fuels, alternative proteins and animal-free products, sustainable foods, beverage fermentation, biocatalysis, biodiesel conversion, biogas production, biomass power, carbon intensity, co2 utilization, combined heat & power, Fischer-Tropsch technology, food waste, hydrothermal carbonization, industrial enzymes, landfill management, microbial fermentation, organic synthesis, plastic pyrolysis, plastic recycling, plastic waste, pyrolysis oil, reactor design, renewable identification number, the Renewable Fuel Standard (rfs2), solid recovered fuels, torrefaction and torrefied biomass, waste to energy, and waste-to-hydrogen. This is a multidisciplinary group of green energy consultants that is a virtual “one stop shop” for any client need and handles projects of all types and sizes.
Look at our experts and the services we provide. Most of our experts are also available to advise and serve as expert witnesses in bioeconomy litigation matters. For the larger projects, we specialize in putting together full service, interdisciplinary teams with one point of contact. See video about LEC here. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information. See also Natural Rubber: Viable Bio-Industrial Economy Crop.