A new generation of environmentally-friendly tires has been launched in Europe. Dutch tire company Apollo Vredestein has produced prototypes of tires manufactured using natural rubber made from guayule and Russian dandelion, the latter also the subject of research being carried out by Bridgestone. The prototypes will now move on to an intensive testing phase before they get to the production phase. The hope is to create an alternative to Asia's rubber monopoly, where the world’s main source of latex, Hevea brasiliensis, mostly comes from.

The research was carried out at the Neiker-Tecnalia laboratory in Spain, one of 12 centers participating of the EU-PEARLS European project funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. The Neiker-Tecnalia center was commissioned to research the genotyping of the guayule (Parthenium argentatum), a type of shrub, and Russian dandelion (Taraxacum kok-saghyz), a perennial plant. The former is more suitable for Mediterranean areas while the latter thrives in northern and eastern European countries.

There are no synthetic alternatives to natural rubber (although some people are working on this). However, considering how far-reaching its application is (from medical products to condoms), it is sensible to find alternatives to break away from the Asian market dominance, as supplies are shrinking and prices increasing. Guayule is already a source of biomass in Spain, but the study found that it is easier to extract rubber from Russian dandelion. Researchers have looked into ways to accelerate its growth rate and increase its output.

There are other advantages linked to these alternatives, besides the monopoly issue. Hevea brasiliensis is vulnerable to several pests and it depends on very specific climate conditions that are exclusive to tropical zones. Besides, guayule and Russian dandelion do not cause allergic reactions, which is also a problem associated with Hevea.

More details about the research will be presented during the closing conference of the EU-PEARLS European project in Wageningen (Netherlands) on September 24 and 25.