Ford looks at dandelions as material for car parts

Posted by Kate Taylor

It might sound more suitable for a fairy or a pixie, but your next car could be made in part from dandelions, if Ford researchers get their way.

Together with Ohio State University, the company is looking into using the plant as a sustainable way of producing rubber.

Apparently, the milky-white substance that seeps from dandelion roots can be used in much the same way as the sap from rubber trees. And Ford is evaluating it for use in plastic parts in vehicles, such as cupholders, floor mats and interior trim. The stuff would be used as a modifier, to help improve the impact strength of the plastics.

"We're always looking for new sustainable materials to use in our vehicles that have a smaller carbon footprint to produce and can be grown locally," says Ford research engineer Angela Harris.

"Synthetic rubber is not a sustainable resource, so we want to minimize its use in our vehicles when possible. Dandelions have the potential to serve as a great natural alternative to synthetic rubber in our products."

Not all dandelions produce the right stuff, and the research is based on the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), which is being grown at The Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

"It's strange to see weeds being grown in perfectly manicured rows in a greenhouse, but these dandelions could be the next sustainable material in our vehicles," says Harris.

Besides the dandelion, the team also is looking into the use of guayule - a southwestern US shrub - which can also be grown domestically. The company is already making seat cushions from soy foam, interior trim from wheat straw-filled plastic and sound-dampening material from recycled cotton from blue jeans.
 
But before either dandelions or guayule can be put to use, Ford says its researchers will need to carry out more tests to make sure the resulting plastic meets durability standards.