1 February 2014 saw the start of the EU project DRIVE4EU, a demonstration project aimed at the development of the production chain of natural rubber and inulin from Russian dandelions. The project is coordinated by Wageningen UR. The aim of the project is to set up a new European chain for the production and processing of natural rubber. This will enable the EU to become less dependent on the import of natural rubber and at the same time to respond to the threat of a global rubber shortage.
Natural rubber is a sustainable material that is used in more than 40,000 products for, among other things, construction (adhesives, sealants), medicine (gloves, tubing) and transportation (matting, tyres). Because of the high quality of natural rubber in many products it cannot be completely replaced by synthetic rubber.
It is expected that the global demand for natural rubber will increase considerably over the coming period. Currently the EU is completely dependent on the import of natural rubber.
At present natural rubber is exclusively harvested from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) of which about 90% is grown in South East Asia. In an earlier research project, EU-PEARLS, the potential of various new natural rubber crops was investigated. This study showed that with a few development steps it is economically feasible to produce natural rubber with Russian dandelions (Taraxacum kok-saghyz).
The Russian dandelion produces very good rubber that can be used to make car tyres, among other things. The EU-PEARLS project yielded a simple efficient extraction method for dandelion rubber, as well as knowledge enabling significant and rapid advances in dandelion breeding. These results were used as the basis for the demonstration project ‘Dandelion Rubber and Inulin Valorisation and Exploitation for the EU’ (DRIVE4EU).
The project will demonstrate the economic feasibility of the use of Russian dandelion as a production platform for both natural rubber and inulin. The inulin can be used as the raw material for interesting green chemicals, such as furan-based polymers. The combination of rubber and inulin makes dandelion extra interesting as a production platform.
Wageningen UR is exploring and improving
In the context of this project, Wageningen UR is working on exploring and improving the possibilities for breeding Russian dandelion on inulin production, chemical-physical analysis of the rubber, support of the DNA study that examines cross-pollination with wild dandelions and optimisation of the biorefinery concept where both natural rubber and inulin are extracted from the crop.
The DRIVE4EU consortium consists of eight industrial partners and five research organisations that bring together a wide knowledge and expertise, from bioscience to product development. The research programme will run until the end of 2017 and is coordinated by Dr Ingrid van der Meer of Wageningen UR.
The partners within DRIVE4EU:
- KeyGene (NL)
- Tereos Syral (FR)
- GEA Westfalia Separator Group GmbH (DE)
- Apollo Tyres Global R&D B.V. (NL)
- QEW Engineered Rubber (NL)
- MITAS (CZ)
- NETZSCH Feinmahltechnik GmbH (DE)
- Joanneum Research (AU)
- Wageningen UR (NL)
- Institute of Botany ASCR (CZ)
- InExCB-KZ (KZ)
- Proefboerderij Rusthoeve (NL)
- ILVO (BE)