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Friday, June 01, 2007

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While soaring gas prices grab all the headlines, few people realize the price of rubber has nearly quadrupled since 2006. Delta Plant Technologies hopes to use a combination of local manpower and some old-fashioned communist ingenuity. During the 1920s, scientists working for Russian leader Joseph Stalin discovered an unlikely alternative to Brazilian rubber trees: dandelion roots from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Although crops of these dandelions were planted all over the U.S. during the 1940s, including Klamath Falls and Corvallis, after World War II the crops were destroyed. Now the idea of producing rubber from a crop that grows so quickly is taking seed again. “We’ve selected plants that produce 20% rubber by weight,” says Daryl Ehrensing, an Oregon State University senior faculty research assistant who has been out in the field studying this unique crop. While tire industry heavyweights such as Cooper Tires, Goodyear and Firestone look on, Ehrensing says, Delta Plant Technologies, based in Ohio, hopes to produce the first batch of Russian dandelion rubber tires in 2010. Ehrensing is confident a new industry will spring up around this new type of rubber. “They’re dandelions,” he says. “They’ll grow anywhere.”

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