Russian dandelions have the potential to become an alternative, environmentally friendly raw material source, thereby helping to reduce dependency on traditionally produced natural rubber. Cultivation in Northern and Western Europe is possible, making transportation routes to the European production sites shorter.
Recognizing the potential of this rubber alternative, Continental has long been cooperating with a group of partners that included the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME), the Julius Kühn Institute, and plant breeders ESKUSA on a project aimed to cultivate a very high-yield and undemanding type of dandelion based on the Russian dandelion. This resulted in the 2014 launch of the first premium winter tire featuring a tread made from pure dandelion rubber. In the same year, plans began to produce the first commercial vehicle tire which needs significantly more natural rubber (20 kg to 25 kg) than a passenger tire (1 kg to 3 kg). At the end of 2015, ContiTech tested the new raw material for anti-vibration technology as well.
In August of last year, the tire manufacturer announced plans to expand its "Taraxagum – tires from dandelion rubber" project. The company said it wanted to build a research facility - the Taraxagum Lab Anklam - " for industrializing the cultivation and processing of dandelion rubber, or Taraxagum as it is officially known. The first project phase will require an investment of approximately €35 million, and create around 20 new jobs in the city in the north east of Germany, which has a population of around 12,700.
"With the Taraxagum Lab Anklam we have now reached a milestone in the 'Taraxagum – tires from dandelion rubber' project", explains Dr. Andreas Topp, head of material and process development as well as industrialization for Tires at Continental. "This exciting project has already developed at a promising rate. A small series of Taraxagum test tires with tread made from pure dandelion rubber was tested against conventional tires made from natural rubber from the hevea brasiliensis rubber tree and the results were extremely positive. Now we want to drive forward the economical production of Taraxagum, and with the new research facility in Anklam we are laying the foundations for this."
Continental presented the plans for the facility to the Anklam town council, who showed broad support for these.
“We are very pleased indeed with the town council’s approval of our long-term project plans,” said Burkhardt Köller, Chairman of the Management Board of Continental Reifen Deutschland GmbH. “The next steps for our Taraxagum Lab Anklam project, which we will be implementing one at a time, are clearly defined.
“As announced in August 2016, over the next five years we intend to invest EUR 35 million to further explore the rubber production processes, which to date we’ve only established on a laboratory scale, for transforming them onto an industrial scale, moving from grams to kilos to tonnes, so to speak. As this represents a major entrepreneurial risk for us, we very much welcome the willingness of Anklam town council to sell us our chosen plot of land for the token sum of one euro.”
“We are planning to gradually increase the number of employees at the Taraxagum Lab msite in Anklam to more than 20 by 2021,” added Dr. Andreas Topp, who oversees material and process development and industrialization for tires at Continental. “At the same time, we intend to enlarge the acreage in the region from 15 hectares at present to 800 hectares so as to increase crop yields to a level measured in tonnes. Our recruitment of the new site manager and the agricultural coordinator, both from nearby the Anklam region, also goes to show that we have perfect conditions here, not only in respect of the available crop area.”
He concluded: “Assuming that we can successfully implement the next steps of the project as planned, we and the town of Anklam can both look forward to a bright future for our Taraxagum Lab Anklam.” (KL)