Thursday, December 24, 2015

Rubber could be grown in Ontario

Rubber could be grown in Ontario, or anywhere where dandelions flourish, says Katrina Cornish of Iowa State University.

There is interest in growing crops that could make rubber because there is a shortage coming from the traditional source in Brazil where the substance was discovered in 1876.

The future of U.S. natural rubber production is in Buckeye Gold dandelion, guayule and sunflower. says Cornish who is chair of the Bioemergent Materials centre within the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

She is convinced rubber-producing crops will become become part of typical farming rotations.

“The agronomic systems for sunflower rubber are already in place. We know how to grow vast quantities of sunflower and need to ramp up yield.

“Guayule production is ongoing and shows tremendous promise. “Dandelion rubber will be at the market stage in just a few years,” she says.

Buckeye Gold is currently under commercial farm testing. Latex is stored in the dandelion taproot.

“Rubber crops have to fit in with existing agronomic systems. With Buckeye Gold, a slight modification on a carrot harvester is a change farmers will make,” says Colleen McMahan, lead scientist on domestic natural rubber for Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Buckeye Gold can be irrigated or grown dryland in any locale with common dandelion presence. In areas with a short growing season, Buckeye Gold can overwinter and handle a hard freeze.

Natural rubber crops failed in the past, but McMahan points to the game-changing factors of genetic breeding and sustainability demand.

In addition, Buckeye Gold yields inulin that’s eaten by diabetics.
“There are economic blocks, but breeding improvements are incredibly fast. Buckeye Gold could become a new industrial crop for the U.S.,” says McMahan.

Edison Agrosciences is using biotechnology to increase the concentration of natural rubber in sunflower leaves and using agronomics to increase the amount of leaves per unit land area. 

“Sunflowers produce between one and two per cent natural rubber in the leaves, but we’re going to have a major increase through biotech,” says Tom Christensen, chief executive officer of Edison and Ag TechInventures, an innovation lab where Edison is a portfolio company.

The rubber in sunflower leaves isn’t harvestable as latex, but instead exists as particles within leaf cells.

Edison is testing both genetic and agronomic mechanisms to stop flowering and boost biomass growth. Seed heads are removed early in development to allow for more rubber production in leaves.

Sunflower rubber has a significant advantage over other new crops due to existing agronomics, according to Christensen. Sunflower planting, fertilization, harvest, weed control, and overall management are well understood.

Edison will have a substantial portion of its research and development program in field plots next year and expects to have a commercial pilot in the field by 2019 with several thousand acres of sunflower for rubber.

Christensen points to the need for a North American rubber value chain.
“We don’t know if we could repurpose already existing extraction facilities or if we’d need to build from the ground up,” he said.

“There’s so much interest in sunflower rubber,” adds Cornish. “We could have sunflower as a viable rubber crop in just a few years with proper investment.”

Guayule is a rubber-producing shrub native to southwest Texas and northern Mexico. It has tremendous promise and is further along in development than Buckeye Gold or sunflower. 

Bridgestone has invested over $120 million in a research farm and processing plant in Arizona.

Latex from Guayule prompts no allergic reactions, making it preferable for products such as gloves for hospital staff.