Dr. Carla Recker (Continental), Prof. Dr. Dirk Prüfer (University of Münster) and Dr. Christian Schulze Gronover (Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME) have been nominated for the Federal President's Award for Technology and Innovation 2021 (“Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2021”) with their joint project “Sustainable tires through dandelions – innovations from biology, technology and agriculture”. The German Federal President’s Office announced this at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Every year, the Federal President presents the Federal President's Award to individuals or teams for outstanding technical, engineering, or scientific innovation.
“This award is a great honor for us. It once again confirms the potential of a new raw material source for natural rubber. Together with our project network, we have been able to significantly advance research into the entire value chain of the Russian dandelion,” explains Dr. Carla Recker, Head of the Expertfield Materials Chemistry at Continental Tires. “The industrialization of the cultivation of dandelion rubber is the goal of our long-term project, where the key to success is mutual trust and perseverance,” she adds. “Our first, series-produced bicycle tire made from dandelion rubber, the Urban Taraxagum, shows that marketable products made of natural rubber from the dandelion plant are possible.”
Since 2011, the project team has been working together on extracting natural rubber regionally from dandelions instead importing it exclusively from far-away tropical regions – a crucial advantage of this project for Dr. Dirk Prüfer, Professor of Plant Biotechnology at the University of Münster. “The protection of our tropical forest is a top priority in the fight against climate change. For this reason, the natural rubber processing industry also needs to rethink. Our approach to sustainably gaining natural rubber from dandelions can counteract many socio-economic and ecological challenges in these regions,” the Münster scientist emphasizes. The extraction of natural rubber from dandelions allows raw materials to be produced close to Continental’s tire mills. This also makes it possible to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by long transport routes.”
The path to establishing the Russian dandelion to become a cultivatable raw material source posed a major challenge for the researchers. “Through consistent, knowledge-based action and with modern analytics, we have worked with a plant breeder to establish high-yielding and hardy plants from wild Russian dandelion. We have also developed an environmentally friendly process for extracting rubber from the roots of the plants,” explains Dr. Christian Schulze Gronover, Head of Research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, Münster. "The whole of society is already benefiting from these innovations, for example farmers, logisticians, machine builders and, naturally, cyclists."
The extended network, which contributes significantly to the implementation of the project, also includes among others the Julius Kühn Institute and the plant breeding company ESKUSA.