Ready with alternative
By TA News Bureau:
In 1995 Daniel R Swiger founded Yulex Corporation, a venture-backed company to commercialise guayule, an alternative to Hevea rubber crop. He did not stop there. His foresight to develop other environmentally-friendly and sustainable rubber took him to seize the challenge to commercialise Taraxacum koksaghyz or Russian dandelion as a source of good, high molecular weight rubber. He founded US biotechnology company Kultevat Inc to produce rubber from dandelion in North America and then expand that model in other parts of the world. He thinks that the near-total dependence on natural rubber produced is Asia is not desirable as leaf blight could wipe out plantations that produce this strategic material. It is indeed imperative to require a domestic source of natural rubber on which Kultevat Inc is investing its resources for processes and technology
When Daniel R Swiger founded Yulex Corporation and now Kultevat Inc, he was very clear about the need to produce economically viable alternatives to natural rubber from Hevea brasiliensis. One reason is the allergy that could be triggered by using latex gloves, condoms or other natural rubber products made from Hevea. The allergy symptoms range from rashes and hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
The other reason is the global economic disaster that could happen if leaf blight were to hit Hevea grown in Asia, which is the source for over 93 per cent of the world’s natural rubber. It is, therefore, imperative that the world should ensure the availability of regular supplies of alternatives to Hevea rubber.
While searching for the best alternative to Hevea rubber, Swiger turned his attention from guayule to Russian dandelion. He invested in research to develop commercially suitable natural rubber from dandelion. He has now succeeded in commercially producing the highest quality of natural rubber with the highest molecular weight that is currently available on the market.
In an interview to Tyre Asia, he spoke of his technology and marketing vision that prompted him to first set up Yulex and the need to develop another source of natural rubber that does not have the problems of allergens that Hevea rubber has. “Our initial market was healthcare professionals who routinely wore gloves as protection against AIDS and other infectious diseases,” he recalled.
It was estimated that at least 20 million Americans suffered from latex allergies that could be triggered by using latex gloves, condoms or other natural rubber products made from Hevea. Allergy symptoms ranged from rashes and hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
Products manufactured from guayule would offer a safe alternative for Hevea allergy sufferers and protect future generations from allergic reactions to latex.
Swiger left Yulex to set up US biotechnology company Kultevat Inc where he pushed for research and technology to produce natural rubber alternatives from dandelion that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. He combined genetic breeding and chemical process engineering to produce natural rubber from Taraxacum kok-saghyz or “TKS” in North America and then expand that model to other parts of the world.
Kultevat serves to reduce near-total dependence on foreign sources of rubber globally. “We need a domestic source of natural rubber,” Swiger said. “Kultevat’s TKS is the highest quality of natural rubber on the market with the highest molecular weight.
He believed that large-scale production of guayule latex was feasible and its commercialisation would directly address the problem of Hevea-latex allergies in the healthcare market. “However, guayule is not economically feasible to compete in the global bulk rubber market,” Swiger affirms.
NR is so important that the world can’t afford to limit its production to one plant in one part of the world, according to Swiger. One of these days, leaf blight is going to hit Hevea again just like it did in Brazil years ago. Experts know it is going to happen; the real question is when?
From his experience with Yulex, Swiger expanded his vision and determination to set up Kultevat for the commercialisation of industry relevant dandelion varieties. The company is poised to offer high quality TKS rubber in commercial amounts. It is now growing TKS in multi-states, and has patented several extraction processes and a capital efficient, bolt on manufacturing plan, he said
“Our customers are rubber manufactures who are dissatisfied with their current rubber suppliers due to shortages, labour and transportation cost and a material that is controlled by the rubber producing countries,” he said and added: “Kultevat’s natural rubber is to the rubber industry what the pacemaker is to humans…”
Remarks Swiger: “We help control (cost, supply, physical and chemical properties) and eventually Kultevat’s rubber will become just like a total heart transplant, because the customer conditions haven’t improved sufficiently with their current rubber supplier.”
If you can control the raw material, quality and price of a domestic rubber the way we are, that doesn’t have shortages, price fixing or controlled by rubber producing countries, then thousands of customers who do experience this will want to buy our material.
Kultevat’s TKS will out-compete all other rubber crops, providing end-use markets with a stable, long-term supply of highest quality natural rubber. TKS can be grown faster, over a broader geographic and climate range, and can be improved by plant breeding more quickly than other rubber-bearing crops. Moreover, harvesting can be easily mechanized and processed requiring less capital than other rubber bearing plants.
Commenting on the reason why he switched his attention from guayule to dandelion, Swiger has reasons to weigh each kind of natural rubber in terms of relevance and price. Unlike Hevea rubber trees and guayule, TKS can be grown in temperate regions around the globe, including in North America.
“Kultevat’s goals include increasing the yield of rubber from cultivation of highly productive varieties of TKS in multiple locations in North America, and developing green technologies for extraction of product from plant tissues,” Swiger explains.
Kultevat’s commercialisation strategy calls for the company to sell into specialty rubber markets at the outset while it continues working with R&D partners to develop products for their purposes. It is engaged with a number of strategic partners/customers and it is currently growing TKS for processing, rubber for processing and scale purposes.
“We’re seven year ahead on plant breeding and about 10 years ahead of everyone else on processing,” Swiger asserts.
Kultevat’s technology platform converts TKS into bulk natural rubber, as well as fermentable sugar syrup and feedstock by-products, in a capital-efficient manner. Leveraging this technology, Kultevat produces different grade products just like the petroleum market where companies offer grades such as Unleaded 87, Plus 89, and Premium 93 minimum octane.
Says Swiger: “Kultevat’s TKS rubber is the premium of the natural rubber market so it will command a higher price due to the attributes and savings that it brings to the customers product.”Now viable technologies are available to make alternatives to natural rubber for tyre making.
Kultevat has an ongoing partnership with KeyGene, a vegetable seed research and development firm whose clients account for more than 30 per cent of global vegetable seed production. The collaboration aims to commercialise the best germplasm and genetics for bulk rubber production. Its other tie-up is with TKO that is aimed at increasing rubber yield. Kultevat germplasm have had rubber yields above 10 per cent, with one germplasm producing as high as 22 percent, Swiger revealed.
Kultevat also partners with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre, which has some 1,700 PhDs in agricultural science on staff and has state-of-the-art technology, as well as greenhouses that provide artificial rain and sunshine. The future is in dandelion.