Alternative Natural and Synthetic Rubber for Ohio and the United States

Alternative Natural and Synthetic Rubber for Ohio and the United States (Drs. Cornish and Michel)

Supplies of natural and synthetic rubbers are suffering shortfalls, and escalating raw material prices to all-time highs of $3/lb for tires.  Initial bench top trials demonstrate that rubber can be extracted from Ohio-grown Russian dandelions in the form of solid rubber or in the form of latex. Domestic rubber production in Ohio, will generate jobs in agriculture, processing, supply chain, construction, and in science and extension.

Supplies of natural rubber (NR, imported from tropical countries) and synthetic rubber (SR) are suffering shortfalls, and escalating raw material prices to all-time highs of $3/lb for solid rubber for tires – a six-fold increase in two years.  The situation is being further exacerbated by political instability in Arabia and Africa, because prices of SR and NR are closely linked to petroleum prices. Furthermore, 2011 saw serious shortfalls in butadiene, the petroleum-derived monomer from which 70% of SR is polymerized. Tropical NR cannot keep up with demand and a 1.5 million MT/yr shortfall is expected by 2020.  The United States needs 1.2 million MT/year NR and 1.7 million MT/year SR.

Russian dandelions capable of producing up to up to 18% NR (dry weight basis) in their roots were obtained from USDA germplasm collected in Kazakhstan.  Initial bench top trials demonstrate that rubber can be extracted from Ohio-grown Russian dandelions in the form of solid rubber or in the form of latex. The solid rubber has very similar properties to Hevea natural rubber and can probably be blended with NR as a drop-in material. Two crop processing plants (pilot scale) have been designed and are being installed in Wooster (OH) to make solid and latex rubber from alternative crops, including the Ohio-grown rubber. Projects funded by Bridgestone and by Goodyear will help support the latex pilot plant. Post-harvest storage experiments demonstrated that T. kok-saghyz roots can be stored for several months without loss of rubber quantity or quality. Our goal of 100% crop consumption has led to successful direction fermentation of the inulin into butanol and as a feedstock for bio-butadiene production.

Domestic rubber production in Ohio, will generate jobs in agriculture, processing, supply chain, construction, and in science and extension.  An 8.4% natural rubber market share in North America, will generate at least 3,600 new jobs.  The first 250 are expected by the end of 2014.