Dandelions are typically regarded as the scourge of gardeners. But scientists around the world are currently engaged in a race to utilise the humble dandelion’s ability to produce tyre-grade rubber in its roots.
At Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) in Muenster, Germany, scientists are working to breed a type of dandelion, native to Kazakhstan, whose taproot yields a milky fluid with tyre-grade rubber particles in it.
Researcher Dirk Pruefer explained more about what they hope to discover: “We are looking for genes involved in the bio-synthesis of rubber. And with this knowledge we would like to create novel plants that are producing more rubber, more stable rubber, under field conditions.”
The natural product obtained in this manner exhibited the same quality as the conventional rubber from trees imported from subtropical countries and used in tyre production.
However, unlike the conventional rubber, it could be harvested more cost-effectively, better-cultivated and grown in Europe – even on land areas not previously suited to agricultural crops.
“One of the main challenges in dandelion research was to produce plants, novel plants that have an improved rubber content that has a good economic behaviour in the field. And that is why we’re working since years on the breeding program to develop new traits in the plants, stabilised traits for example a stable rubber content,” said Pruefer.
Far from hoping that the rubber tree can be replaced, tyre makers would be happy with a complementary source.
In addition, the record high price of rubber has added urgency to the search for alternative crops.
In tests, the experimental rubber has performed on a par with conventional natural rubber; but it will take some more years of development – even after the ongoing projects end – before the first dandelion tyres appear on the market.
Scientists at an indoor produce farm in Singapore are using cutting edge technology to reduce growing times and costs.
The Panasonic lab-farm is one of the projects in the works to increase the capability of the small island state, which currently imports more than 95 percent of its produce, to grow its own vegetables.
Advances in LED technology, mean engineers can shine the exact type of light necessary for plant cultivation. This has proved highly important in allowing this method of cultivation to take place, and be cost effective.
Alfred Tham is Agricultural Business Unit Manager at Panasonic Factory Solutions: “Our LEDs are specially designed to simulate two out of seven sunlight rays that is necessary for photosynthesis. We control the settings and duration of the lights to achieve optimum cultivations for our crops.”
Tuning the lights to exactly the right spectrum to stimulate growth is just one way the technicians are able to make efficiency gains and cut costs. They’ve also set up an array of monitoring devices, meaning as little of the growing process is left to chance as possible.
“We measure and control the soil moisture and PH value at different processes, our water is also treated through our filtration system to achieve optimum quality that is best for our plant growth,” said Tham.
According to Tham, the high-tech approach to farming means the time it takes for the plants to reach maturity is significantly reduced.
And people who’ve tested the produce have been very positive about the results.