Vital to all economies and infinitely useful, natural rubber boasts a backstory far more compelling than its pragmatic nature suggests. Discovered in the 1930s in Central Asia, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS) became an important industrial rubber-producing plant, also known as “Russian dandelion.” When cost- effective rubber supplies from Southeast Asia were cut off by the Japanese invasion during World War II, Canadian production of TKS proved indispensable for meeting both medical and military needs during the critical embargo.
While TKS fell into disuse when Hevea rubber became available again after the war, an interest in reviving local production has resurfaced in recent years, fueled by rising rubber costs and latex allergies. One company in Surrey saw an unparalleled opportunity for British Columbia farmers.
After researching the growing conditions and market demand for natural rubber, Nova-BioRubber Green Technologies undertook a series of trials for producing and processing TKS at a commercial scale on several BC farms, in both greenhouses and raised beds.
“TKS offers the potential for a new summer and winter cash crop for BC farms, particularly those that are underutilized and unprofitable,” explains Nova-BioRubber founder Dr. Anvar Buranov, adding that thousands of new jobs in both primary production and processing are anticipated as a result.
After completing a three-year project funded by the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, Dr. Buranov and his team have successfully demonstrated that TKS can be grown annually in BC, with crop values of up to $16,000 per hectare!
“Agricultural practices can also be completely mechanized to decrease growing costs,” promises Dr. Buranov, estimating about $100 per acre.
With their new green processing facility, Nova-BioRubber can accommodate an annual production of 100 tons of rubber and 100 tons of inulin, the main TKS by-product that offers a valuable dietary fiber to the food processing and pharmaceutical industries.
And with the price of rubber continuously increasing over the past 20 years, many industries have displayed a heightened interest in alternative sources of natural rubber. While scientists have studied alternatives like Guayule, its product has never reached the market due to its low rubber content, difficult extraction process and three-year growth cycle.
TKS by contrast, offers a steady supply with reliably high rubber and inulin contents (24 and 40 percent respectively), and only takes four months to grow in BC’s climate. Thanks to the harvesting and processing technologies developed by Nova Bio-Rubber, the extraction process is green, simple and affordable.
“Compared to previous methods, our technology offers close to a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption, 80 percent reduction in labour, 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 90 percent reduction in water consumption and 100 percent reduction in toxic chemical consumption,” reports Dr. Buranov, noting that processing time is also 600 percent faster and costs approximately $1 per kilogram of rubber, lower than any known technology.
A TKS production guide is now available to growers in the Lower Mainland and Northwest Coast, featuring climate-specific best practices.
With roughly three million hectares of marginal lands available in BC, Dr. Buranov is confident farmers can meet the growing demand for natural rubber without compromising local food production.
“This may even provide a new industry in rural areas of BC,” he adds hopefully.
Funding: $295,000 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INN239)