“The wonderful thing about tiggers / Is tiggers are wonderful things / Their tops are made out of rubber / Their bottoms are made out of springs . . .” For some strange reason, Tigger’s catchy tune from Winnie the Pooh comes to mind when thinking of the research being conducted at the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center.
The Panhandle Research and Extension Center is part of a multi-university research project exploring whether rubber can be grown and processed from dandelions. Yes, the common weed found in everyone’s yard could one day be raised deliberately in Nebraska for rubber if it proves “adaptable”, “expandable”, or maybe “flexible”. Research at Ohio State University, one of the cooperating institutions, has produced rubber from dandelions on a small scale. The rubber was then used to manufacture tires and other products typically made from rubber. Thus, rubber produced from dandelions is possible, but whether it can be replicated at a commercial scale is open to question.
The dandelions used in the research are a different type from the common front-yard weed variety, but the research hopes to discover how to raise dandelions commercially and convert the inulin and biomass in the plant to rubber and biofuel. The project, funded by a grant from the USDA and Dept. of Energy has several components including plant breeding, processing, and agronomics. Research in the Panhandle will focus on equipment and methods to establish a crop, optimal length of growing season, irrigation and fertilizer requirements, weed control, and harvest methods. If successful, domestically grown rubber could offset U.S. imports used in tires and other finished goods. The U.S. imports 1.5 million tons of natural rubber each year.
Watch out industrial hemp—a competing alternative crop could be in the mix in Nebraska. Who knows? Maybe the future is driverless vehicles riding on tires made of rubber from dandelions grown in Nebraska.