Researchers from the Colorado State University will use funding from the US Department of Agriculture to explore ways of increasing rubber production from sunflowers.
The grant of US$2.5 million will help researchers to develop sunflowers into a rubber-producing crop to reduce the reliance on the harvesting of rubber trees in Southeast Asia and Brazil currently the only natural source of rubber in the world.
‘Sunflowers naturally produce a small amount of rubber,’ says Professor Calvin Pearson, Research Project Coordinator. ‘By developing new sunflower varieties, the quality and quantity of rubber in sunflowers can be increased.’
Other project collaborators will look at optimising rubber production in quayule, a plant native to south western states. ‘Guayule naturally produces high quality rubber, but more research is needed to make it a more profitable crop,’ says Pearson. ‘By developing these crops, we are able to support our national economy and become less dependent on imports.’
The US is currently totally dependent upon imports for its rubber supply, importing nearly 1.3 million tonnes a year. With its use in more than 40,000 products, including medical devices, the federal government made finding an alternative, domestic source of rubber a national priority.
‘Although rubber supplies are currently sufficient to meet market demand, the supply is likely to diminish since plantation owners don’t see the crop as profitable,’ says Lee Sommers, Colorado State Agricultural Experiment Station Director. ‘This could lead to stress on the American economy, as many of the products we use in our daily life depend upon rubber.’
The four-year project will be co-ordinated from a newly built laboratory and growth chamber at the Western Colorado Research Center in Fruita, USA.