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.

Northeast Ohio Medical University

Hospice of the Western Reserve

Metro RTA


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

The Black Keys guitar tech's moment in the spotlight
Nice job, Vivian. It's always nice to hear about the unsung heroes getting their due! Thank you, Chuck Johnston (Full disclosure - I'm a friend of the Carney fa...

Akron's Tuba Christmas: A resounding blast of holiday spirit
Nice piece, Vivian! Looking forward to hearing you move from flute to tuba on Saturday. Love hearing your interviews and this seemed extra special since I kno...

Cleveland Hugo Boss workers are fighting for their jobs again
Bro. Ginard; I support your effert to keep your jobs, I understand all about concesions, I was a Union offical from 1965 until 1991 and the company th...

Asian Carp control could benefit from bill passed by House, heading to the Senate
help me fight the battle against invasive carp by method of harvest

Ohio's Portman supports lifting limits on party political money
If Portman was legitimately concerned about outside groups influence on elections he would have supported the DISCLOSE act. Instead he helped block it being bro...

Study shows trade with China has cost more than 3 million U.S. jobs
I disagree with James Dorn! If we don't change the playing field and make it a fair competition the whole US industry will be weaker and weaker. Eventually all ...

Video of Cleveland police shooting a 12-year-old is critical to the investigation
While I think this is a very unfortunate, the fact is that police are trained to aim for the large mass of a human to stop them. If they aimed for the leg it w...

Wayne County teacher says he was fired for criticizing dairy
This is bull crap Smithville Schools have changed ever since the new school I'm so ashamed at the district I wish I could pick my house up and move it to anothe...

White Castle is closing its five Northeast Ohio restaurants
you should open a white castle in logan ohio.i'm pretty sure you disappointed,thank you...

Copyright © 2014 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