Natural Rubber is strategically important to the development of building, medical, transportation and personal care industries and is used in over 40,000 products. Ninety percent of all-natural rubber is produced exclusively by the Hevea Brasiliensis rubber tree, which is mainly grown in Southeast Asia. However, current natural rubber production is jeopardized by climate change, disease, increasing cost of labor and competition with more profitable crops.
Dandelion Taraxacum Kok-Saghyz (TKS) Rodin is endemic in the Tien Shan region of Kazakhstan, listed in its Red Book, and was the source of production of natural rubber in the USSR however the technology went dormant after World War II until recently with the implementation of the EU-PEARLS project and Drive4EU initiative.
The EU-PEARLS project, which completed in 2012, was a natural latex and rubber production project based in Europe aimed at developing a processing industry that can be incorporated into both new and existing rubber production chains. It emerged in response to the fact that current rates of rubber production are unlikely to keep up with rapidly increasing global demand. When this is coupled with the rubber trees’ limited genetic variability, as well as further threats associated with the effects of climate change, it became clear that the industry was facing a number of obstacles to long-term success. EU-PEARLS provides an alternative, sustainable solution using rubber harvested from the guayule, an evergreen shrub native to the southwestern United States and Mexico, and the TKS Dandelion. In the past TKS Dandelion has been referred to as Russian dandelion, which is due to the fact that Kazakhstan was previously a part of the USSR. However, since the collapse of the USSR, the TKS Dandelion can now be referred to as the Kazakh Dandelion as well. The guayule first started receiving attention as rubber harvested from these plants has similar properties to traditional rubber harvested from rubber trees. In addition to this, its hypoallergenic nature means that it meets ASTM rubber standards, prompting even more research into the plant. The Russian dandelion has also been historically known as a sustainable alternative to traditional rubber, and was used in tires during World War II.
The Drive4EU initiative built off the EU PEARLS project and aimed at developing the natural rubber and inulin production chain in Europe, in an attempt to make the bloc less dependent on rubber imports, while simultaneously reacting to the market threat of rubber shortages in the long-term. As there is still space for a good amount of research to be done into the Taraxacum Kok-Saghz (TKS) dandelion and the guayule plant, the Drive4EU initiative acted as a bridge between research and the market.
Drive4EU’s value chain involved seed production and breeding, crop cultivation, gene transfer assessment, rubber and inulin extraction, and rubber and inulin-based products. Overall, the project can be understood as a demonstration of the economic viability of the TKS dandelion in the production chain of natural rubber and inulin. The Drive4EU project held it’s final stakeholder workshop in October 2018.
KZ-Rubber is the successor of the EU-PEARLS project and Drive4EU initiative. The company is ultimately responsible for the commercial development of rubber production from the (TKS) dandelion found in the Southeast of Kazakhstan. Since TKS is a protected species, Kazakhstan has the potential to play a vital role in its commercial development. The above initiatives are linked to the KZ-Rubber project as the business models used to implement production chains in the EU by EU-PEARLS while Drive4EU can be assessed and re-applied to the Kazakhstani market where applicable to maximize the product’s commercial success. Additionally, all research undertaken by these initiatives is essential for the further development of KZ-Rubber as the TKS dandelion has been utilized by all three projects, and any information that is obtained will be valuable throughout the stages of development.
KSTM, based in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is leading the implementation of KZ-Rubber with The Bassiouni Group and Kamizhan serving as KSTM’s strategic partners. Given KSTM’s extensive experience in EU-PEARLS, KZ-PEARLS and Drive4EU, the company possesses the unique knowledge and expertise, including best practices, to drive the growth and development of a sustainable natural rubber industry in Kazakhstan.
The Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan supports the KZ-Rubber project and will provide the necessary land resources within the regions of Almaty, Turkestan, and Eastern Kazakhstan. Furthermore, KSTM and TBG have signed an MOU with KazakhInvest, the inward investment agency tasked with attracting Foreign Direct Investment. In addition, the Ministries for Investment and Development, Agriculture, and Energy will help the realization of the project in the country.