Talk about your poetic justice, karma or just plain old payback: dandelions, that bane of suburban life, may some day work their way into that staple of suburban life, the family car. In partnership with researchers at Ohio State University, Ford is developing a dandelion-based rubber substitute that could be used to make floor mats, cup holders and other interior parts. The idea is to cut down on petroleum-based products wherever possible while lightening the vehicle to improve fuel efficiency. The dandelion deal doesn’t sound like much but when you put it together with some of Ford’s other forays into sustainable materials, you’ve got the potential for a taking a big chunk out of the carbon footprint of a typical car.
Sustainable Materials for Car Parts
Ford notes that its other new materials include seat cushions made from soy foam, the use of recycled materials such as resins, carpets (hey, carpet waste is a big issue), and denim (yes, recycled blue jeans in your car), and plastic reinforced with wheat straw. The potential for dandelions as a source of sustainable rubber comes from a milky white substance in the roots of one particular species, the Russian Dandelion. This species was actually cultivated for rubber production and was used to make tires for army vehicles during World War II when conventional rubber was in short supply, but it lost its allure once things got back to normal.
The Pursuit of Sustainable Rubber
If it seems that Ford is chasing rainbows, guess again. The European Union has set up a research consortium to develop dandelion rubber, EU-PEARLS (EU-based Production and Exploitation of Alternative Rubber and Latex Sources). The consortium is also looking into the use of a shrub common through the southwestern U.S., guayule, for sustainable rubber. In addition to standing in for petroleum-based plastics, the idea is to develop other natural rubber sources in addition to conventional rubber trees, which are vulnerable to disease and face competition from other crops including, ironically, palm oil plantations.
A Mixed Bag of Sustainable Car Parts
Dandelions aren’t the weirdest things you might be driving around in some day soon in the sustainable future. As car manufacturers focus more attention on biodegradable plastics and other lightweight parts, the typical car could be made of practically anything, from coconut husks to cow bones and chicken feathers.
Image: Dandelion by gmajsicmtc on flickr.com.