OARDC, OBIC win $3 million grant to develop rubber from dandelion

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WOOSTER, Ohio — Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center, along with other university and industry partners, have been awarded a $3 million Third Frontier Wright Projects Program grant to develop a renewable, domestic source of natural rubber that is expected to create new industries and jobs by bringing together the state’s agricultural and rubber-products sectors.

“We are very pleased to be involved with this transformational project to develop a source of natural rubber that can be produced in Ohio,” Ohio State University Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center Director Steve Slack said.

“Ohio has a long, proud tradition in the production of quality rubber products that impact every facet of our transportation industries. We can visualize the next-generation rubber source being both homegrown and home-refined.”

The source of rubber being domesticated at Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s Wooster campus is a type of dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), native to the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

TKS

Commonly known as Russian dandelion, TKS produces high-quality natural rubber in its fleshy taproot, comparable in performance to the latex extracted from the only commercially available source of natural rubber today: the Brazilian rubber true, Hevea brasiliensis.

But while rubber from Hevea trees, grown almost exclusively in southeast Asia, is the industry standard, businesses and researchers see an immediate need for an alternative, domestic source of this material that the U.S. Congress has recognized as “strategic” for both manufacturing and defense.

The reasons, Delta Plant President Bryan Kinnamon said, are increasingly undeniable.

“The United States depends on 100-percent imported natural rubber, whose price has increased almost seven-fold since 2002, costing the country $3.3 billion a year,” Kinnamon said.

“Additionally, natural-rubber supplies are becoming increasingly unstable as a result of rapidly expanding growth in China and India, decline in rubber production due to industrialization in Southeast Asia, and increasing utilization of this material by former Soviet Bloc countries. Estimates indicate that demand will exceed supply in 2020 by approximately 15 percent.”

Grant

The Third Frontier grant will help partners in this project conduct validation and qualification of Russian dandelion rubber by industrial users for a range of applications, but focusing on Ohio’s leading tire industry.

Most of the $3 million will go toward building a pilot-scale processing facility on the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s Wooster campus that will generate 20 metric tons of rubber a year for industrial testing.

Delta Plant envisions Ohio will have the first module of a TKS commercial facility in place by 2013. This plant will be expanded to 60 million pounds of natural rubber annually by 2015.

Rubber-processing facilities will be located near the areas where TKS is grown, much like the corn ethanol model.

For more information about the Russian dandelion rubber project, log on to the Web site, http://www.oardc.osu.edu/penra.

Third Frontier

The Ohio Third Frontier Wright Projects Program provides grants to support specifically defined near-term commercialization projects requiring major capital acquisitions and improvements at Ohio colleges and universities and nonprofit research institutions.

Projects must involve one or more Ohio companies and be in the areas of advanced materials, power and propulsion, information technology and instruments, controls and electronics.

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