Washington – Alternative sources of natural rubber sources, such as guayule and Kok-saghyz dandelions, will be important, but not for the next several years, according to the consensus of experts in this area.
"Alternative NR sources such as guayule and Russian dandelion are not probably going to affect demand and supply for Hevea very soon," Nguyen Ngoc Bich, secretary general of the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) believes.
"It is good news that we will have reserves of NR for the future beside that from Hevea," he said. "Nevertheless, research and development may still be ahead to enable the sustainable production as well as the economic viability of NR from those plants."
The US obtains at least 90% of its NR from Southeast Asia, so sources from other areas are extremely desirable, according to the anonymous source. But it will be five to 10 years minimum before guayule, dandelions and other alternative NR sources make an impact in the market.
"We're looking at all sorts of investments," the source said. "But dandelion growers are telling me they can do really well only when Hevea rubber is at $5 or $6 a kilo, and currently it's $1.50."
Taraxagum, the dandelion rubber Conti is developing, should enter commercial production in the next five to 10 years and then flow step by step into Conti's rubber products, according to the company.
Conti launched its first winter test tire with an all-dandelion tread in 2014, but doesn't see Taraxagum completely replacing Hevea even in the next few decades, the company said.
"It will be a stepwise development, as we still have a long way to go to industrialize dandelions," it said. "After that start, over years we might get to 10% being sourced from dandelion rubber."
Katrina Cornish, endowed chair and Ohio Research Scholar, Bioemergent Materials at Ohio State University, reckons that both sources are still some time away from commercialization, especially on commodity markets.
"It is very important, in my opinion, to focus both on premium niche markets and to fully valorize their co-product streams," said Cornish, an expert on the agronomy and development of both guayule and dandelions.
"This is much easier, at the moment, for guayule latex/bio-oil than for rubber dandelion/inulin," she noted. “Guayule is ready to go from the agronomy point of view, but dandelion cannot greatly expand until the agronomy is further developed."
For his part, Michael Fraley, CEO of Casa Grande, Arizona-based guayule rubber development firm PanAridus LLC, predicted that guayule will be a factor in the NR market in eight to 10 years.
“If the different stakeholders started pulling together today, he said, there could be guayule tires on the market in four or five years. But first the funding would have to be there, he said.
"We no longer need to research—we need to fund production," added Farley. "But a lot of tire manufacturers are still on the sidelines."
Fraley said he hopes that someday guayule will have 15 to 20% of the NR market share, which would mean 80,000 to 100,000 acres of guayule under cultivation. With the problems currently facing Hevea, it can't happen soon enough, he said.
"Leaf blight is on the list as a chemical weapon," he said.