Designing tyres is no cake-walk. Despite of the fact that all tyres are round and black, there is an intense research, nothing less than rocket science, that goes into the making of a good tyre.
Continental tires, flagship company of Continental AG, has been one of the best tyre makers in the world. Much of it has been because of the innovations the company incorporates in creation of their products. Keeping in line with that and considering the changing environmental factors, the brand is laying a keen emphasis on creating tyres that are Eco-friendly by making use of natural Russian Dandelion.
While the tyres in today’s scenario make use of polymers and other synthetic components in large proportions, yet a major component material is still ‘Rubber’, obtained naturally. This natural component makes for improved resistance against wearing. But the increased demands for vehicles and in turn for tyres is a bit too much to be satisfied by the natural rubber plants. This is because the rubber tree (Hevea Brasiliensis) only grows in areas near equator and the availability of rubber is largely dependent on climatic conditions. This has stressed towards finding an alternative which has more availability and less of an impact on environment.
After years of rigorous research, Continental believes that they have found the natural ingredient for tyres- Russian Dandelion
“We’ve been looking into the idea for at least the last five years,” explained Dr Peter Zmolek, one of Continental’s engineers working on the project. “Fairly recently we started going into it with a more serious approach—building tires—and more recently we’ve committed to investment in a facility that would allow us to start making it on a more productive scale.”
Continental wanted to find a material that was close enough to natural rubber trees. The Russian dandelion turned out to be the closest match.
“There are other strains of dandelion, but the Russian dandelion is a very large plant, and the rubber is in the roots, which is what we’re harvesting. It produces a significant amount of latex which is close enough to the rubber tree that it works for us.”, said Dr. Zmolek.
The best part about Russian Dandelion is that it can be grown in a wide range of locations and not just close to equator. Also, unlike that in case of a Rubber Tree, harvesting rubber from these trees can begin soon after a year of plantation.
Continental Tires tried dandelion latex in its winter tires WinterContact TS850 PS and they were found to acceptable replacement for the natural rubber after rigorous testing bouts.
“Winter tires typically have a higher amount of natural rubber, and the test was not to change the recipe at all, just a one-to-one swap from the rubber tree to the dandelion rubber,” Zmolek told us. “They performed exactly as expected, which showed we were able to do this swap.”
Continental is closely working with Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, the Julius Kuehn-Institute, and the plant breeder Aeskulap with an aim to make dandelions a feasible option from an agronomic and economic view point.