Flower Power

Goodyear is researching sustainable tires made from dandelions

Dandelions might just revolutionize the rubber industry.

Yard full of dandelion flowers (taraxacum officinale).
Bernard Lynch/Moment/Getty Images

Goodyear’s next big tires might just switch out flowers for latex. The automotive company is working to develop a new source of rubber derived from a certain species of dandelion, of all things. The research program, which Goodyear says is worth multiple millions of dollars, is being supported by the Department of Defense, the Air Force Research Lab, and BioMade (a biotechnology manufacturing company).

The research itself will be conducted by Farmed Materials, a sustainability-focused polymer company based in Ohio. If all goes well with the dandelions, this project could be an enormous step toward Goodyear’s goal of creating 100 percent sustainable tires by 2030.

Initial research for the new rubber focused on more than 2,500 species of plants, only a handful of which actually presented the necessary properties for sustainable rubber production. Just one species of dandelion — taraxacum kok-saghyz, also known as TK — proved promising enough to focus on full-time. Goodyear reports that pilot TK plantings have shown strong enough harvests that researchers have requested more funds for additional plantings.

Just look at those roots.Goodyear

More than just gas — Many of our discussions around sustainable transportation focus on fuel sources — but even electric vehicles can’t be entirely sustainable until their materials are environmentally friendly, too. Goodyear recognizes this and, alongside initiatives from companies like Michelin, is leading truly innovative research projects to meet sustainability goals.

Though most sustainable tires are still working through the testing process, many are already making impressive progress. Earlier this year, Goodyear announced a tire composed of 70 percent sustainable material, a mixture of recycled polyester, plant-based carbon blacks, and soybean oil. Goodyear is also working on an airless tire that uses tiny spokes to keep the wheel firm enough to drive on.

Bigger than just tires — Perhaps most impressive about this particular tire project is that it could have results that reach far further than just the automotive industry. Raw rubber derived from rubber trees is always in high demand; if successful, Goodyear’s dandelion rubber could change the rubber industry entirely.

While rubber trees take seven years to be ready for harvest — and can only grow in tropical climates — dandelions can be harvested every six months and can be grown in many locations. That’s the kind of sustainability we need more of as we inch ever closer to total climate destruction.