They may be a nuisance for gardeners, but dandelions can find a place in salads and even can be made into wine. Now, what many consider a noxious weed could find an even more useful application: as a replacement for natural rubber.
German supplier Continental Tire hopes to put the synthetic material, known as taraxa gum, into production “in five to 10 years” as an alternative to conventional rubber tire treads. And industry researchers are developing other natural and recycled alternatives that are replacing wire insulation, plastic panels, carpets and even leather and suede.
Some of these environmentally friendly substitutes aren’t entirely new, however. Henry Ford was tinkering with soy-based compounds and recycling wood a full century ago. And, like then, researchers find some of these seeming solutions can create unexpected problems of their own.