News
News Home
Quick Bites
Exploradio
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
NPR
nowplaying
On AirNewsClassical
Loading...
  
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Greater Akron Chamber

Akron General


For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )


Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Economy and Business


A homegrown revival of the rubber industry in northeast Ohio
Dandelions imported from central Asia may be the key to jobs and economic regeneration here
by WKSU's TIM RUDELL


Reporter
Tim Rudell
 
A block of natural rubber. The dandelion latex from which it is produced is nearly identical to rubber tree latex
Courtesy of tpr
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

In the fields of Wayne County, scientists are trying to grow jobs by planting dandelions that produce rubber. Yes, it sounds crazy; but WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports that maybe it’s not.

Click to listen

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:49)


(Click image for larger view.)

Rubber is critical to modern life. Whether for advanced surgery or retreading tires, the need for it is everywhere and ever-increasing. 

Supplies are not. And Katrina Cornish, a crop scientist and expert in natural rubber production, says that’s problematic for us. First, because rubber trees, the source of almost all natural rubber, don’t grow here; and second, because the trees do, almost all, grow in Asia.

"The development of India and China is drawing down the rubber supply so much that production is having a very hard time keeping up with demand," Cornish says. "It is essential to transportation, defense, national security, medicine. We are in a very sensitive position.”

New market
Cornish believes she and her colleagues at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster have “sorted out” how create a new domestic supply. They’ve studied and cultivated a special variety of dandelion in its roots that produces latex, the stuff of natural rubber, in surprisingly large amounts.

At the end of last year, they finished a pilot factory for making the root latex into products, such as rubber gloves.  And next month, they’re planting their first major crop of the dandelions in local fields, something Cornish hopes will kick off a robust new industry.

“I think we really should be pushing these crops until we make the U.S. self-sustainable, and an exporting country."

Jobs
That could mean jobs: an estimated 5,000 farmers and processing and transportation workers for every 50,000 acres of dandelions planted.  By way of perspective, 50,000 acres is just one third of one percent of Ohio's nearly 14-million farm acres.   

Tom Waltermire, who heads TeamNEO, the non-profit that promotes northeast Ohio as a place to build and expand businesses, says the front end of the new industry is where growth will likely come.

"From an economic development standpoint, you’re going to have farmers adding acreage, or transitioning and rotating crops; which means you have a more diverse agricultural base," Waltermire says. "Then you need a whole new infrastructure for gathering and processing these plants. ... You have to hire people to run them.”

Tire manufacturing
Could the emergence of Ohio as a source of raw rubber bring back the tire industry?

Cornish says not tire factories so much, but in terms of tire makers creating jobs here by buying Ohio-produced rubber, yes -- especially because natural rubber is now broadly preferred over the synthetic compounds.

"They’re all very interested in sustainable tires, Bridgestone, Koyo, the Japanese are all very rapidly moving away from the synthetics.”

Pilot facility 
Tom Waltermire says there are other important possibilities beyond tire building.

Cornish tours the new 6,000 square foot pilot processing center in Wooster and agrees.

“We can make food-grade inulin (a starch) as a co-product," she says. "In fact, our pilot plant does do that. That’s got quite a nice ticket value; $3-a-pound or something like that.  The rest of the biomass we can convert to energy.”

Cornish points to other dandelion-based items, ranging from a simple hockey puck to what looks like an exotic form of rolled-out pizza dough. She says the potentials are myriad.

“Suppose we have a terrorist attack with Ebola?  How are you going to get the room clean?  Paint out the room with a latex coating that will cure at ambient temperatures.And then when you’re done, you peel it off and throw it in the incinerator.” 

One big reservation
With all the possibilities, a question still looms.  These remarkable dandelions are native. They’re from Kazakhstan. So they carry a big question: Will they be an invasive species?

According to Cornish, studies so far says no -- and the “so far” has been a good while.

“In World War II, they were planted in about 70 sites all across the U.S. willy-nilly, with no consideration. And we have no indication of invasiveness. The pollen isn’t able to cross with the common dandelion.But, it’s a good question and a question that has to be thoroughly addressed.”

Meanwhile, several full fields are going into cultivation with the special dandelions in about two weeks. Project backers expect that to spark creation of as many as 250 jobs by the end of 2014; and a lot more in the years after that.


Related WKSU Stories

Rubber From Russian Dandelions
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Listener Comments:

Very nicely put together story (thank you) - but the job number is much higher than 3,000 mentioned. We have estimated around 5,000jobs per 50,000 acres, and just US sustainability in natural rubber production will require around 2 million acres of Buckeye Gold (the Ohio name for the rubber dandelion. This is around 200,000 new jobs. Exports could create a much larger industry even than this.


Posted by: Katrina Cornish (Wooster) on April 16, 2013 9:04AM
Add Your Comment
Name:

Location:

E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Comments:




 
Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook




Stories with Recent Comments

Cuyahoga Valley National Park OK's sharpshooters to thin deer herds
In this article you mention that the Mule Deer Foundation is a "hunting group" in reality the Mule Deer Foundation is a conservation group that is over 25 years...

In the driver's seat of history
I believe he was a teacher of mine as James Ford Rhodes. My favorite teacher of all time! Loved learning this part of his amazing history.

Cleveland RTA is moving Public Square bus stops beginning this week
I am very confused. Why are you taking one or more of the park and ride 246 out of service in the morning. I looking over the new schedule I see that there ar...

Canton school board will vote Wednesday on its high school merger
Great to see that THE REPOSITORY is advising a 'no' vote for now! Another point, besides all the Very accurate points already made against this move is the fac...

Some parents opting their students out of Common Core test
I am an 8th grader at a school in Allen County. I have just recently taken the ELA performance based assessment and found it extremely difficult. It asked me a ...

Fallout from the Ohio Supreme Court Munroe Falls ruling
The comment by Nathan Johnson from OEC is confusing. Instead of cities being 'emboldened' to craft zoning laws that were just stricken down by this ruling, comm...

Stopping sediment dumping in Lake Erie
Ah, yes, the Army Coro of Engineers, the geniuses that designed the levee system in New Orleans that has made the flooding worse due to no sediment reaching the...

Ohio charter school critic says reform bills are a good step
The cold truth is that these charter schools are offering services beyond the what the state tests can guage. Parents and students have a choice and they are ch...

State law trumps restrictions on oil and gas drilling in Munroe Falls
Justice O'Neill's quote brings up a point I wish WKSU would address: since, unlike for Federal judges, our judges here in Ohio are elected, and therefore respo...

Ohio Supreme Court invalidates local fracking bans
If Ohio has their way, Fracking Wells will be planted in the courtyard of every town. That is if the State of Ohio can profit by it...for more on how the court ...

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

 
In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University