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DRIVE4EU Report Summary

Project ID: 613697
Funded under: FP7-KBBE
Country: Netherlands

Periodic Report Summary 2 - DRIVE4EU (DRIVE4EU: Dandelion Rubber and Inulin Valorization and Exploitation for Europe)

Project Context and Objectives:
A summary description of project context and objectives

Natural rubber (NR) is an essential renewable material for more than 40,000 products essential to building, medicine, transportation industries. In many applications NR cannot be replaced by synthetic rubbers. At the moment NR is harvested exclusively from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) of which 90% is grown in South East Asia. NR consumption is forecasted to increase significantly and will increase from 11.2 MT in 2012 to 16 MT in 2020, pushing upwards market prices.
Increasing NR demand can only be complied with by increasing the acreage of rubber tree plantations, but this may be hindered by sustainability issues, including sustainable land use (deforestation), availability of cheap labour, and control of potentially devastating fungal diseases (South American leaf blight). For their NR supply Europe fully relies on imports. Considering the future market developments and related sustainability issues, European rubber manufacturers are urgently looking for resource diversification.
The successful EU-PEARLS project, which finished in 2012, demonstrated the viability of Rubber dandelion (Taraxacum koksaghyz, TKS) as new NR producing source. An advantage of TKS is that up to 40% of its root biomass comprises inulin. Inulin is a polymer of fructose, an excellent resource for furan type chemicals and polymers.
The main objective of DRIVE4EU is to turn TKS production into a valid business case by developing concepts for valorising rubber and inulin.
TKS is a wild, non-domesticated plant, with a relatively low yield potential. EU-PEARLS resulted in good quality (dry) rubber and tyres, and a proof of concept of the rubber extraction process, plus the development of breeding tools and the formation of hybrids between TKS and more vigorously growing dandelion species. All essential key elements of the whole production process are now in place: the quality of the rubber is very good, the extraction method has been sorted out on lab scale, the first hybrids and the breeding tools have been set up. The only part that will enable the real demonstration of the viability of Rubber dandelion as new European natural rubber and inulin source, is the scaling up of each individual step in the production chain. This means that in this demonstration project we need to scale up all levels in the production chain of NR from TKS, and to valorise as much as possible of the TKS biomass in order to make an economical feasible production chain. In DRIVE4EU TKS cultivars (prototypes) are being developed that produce more total biomass and more rubber. We are optimising the agronomical conditions for growth and seed production (both technical and non-technical) and develop technology for harvesting on large scale, and design machinery for optimal extraction of the two products, rubber and inulin. The quality and properties of rubber and inulin in different applications will be investigated. Finally, an economic analysis of the whole rubber production chain will be made.
The main goals of DRIVE4EU are: (1) plant genotypes with high root biomass, high rubber and inulin yield, (2) seed batches for agronomic tests and large scale demo field trials, (3) new agronomical methods to optimize cultivation and harvest of Rubber dandelion, (4) ecological analysis of the gene flow and competition between cultivated and wild dandelions leading to optimal planting protocol to prevent in- and outcrossing, (5) optimised extraction and purification protocol and machinery of valuable products from TKS-roots: rubber, inulin (latex), and rest material, (6) demonstration of an economic viable and robust production chain and end product uses.
The Project is subdivided into eight work packages. WP1 covers the overall project coordination. In WP2, improved cultivars are bred and seeds are produced for WP, where the agronomic conditions are tested for an optimal production yield, in combination with optimisation of harvest methods and storage conditions. In WP5, the biomass from these small demonstration plots is extracted and separated into different components (inulin, rubber and rest) with small scale refining techniques. In WP4, the ecological aspects are evaluated and the cross-contamination with wild dandelion species are analysed in order to substantiate the cultivation practises. In WP6, the best performing lines will be grown on large demonstration fields with optimised agronomic conditions and the refined products will be used in products. WP7 will show the economic viability of the complete production chain with data from WP2, 3, 5 and 6. All partners are expected to disseminate their work in WP8.

Figure 1. Outline of production chain for rubber and inulin, presenting the main activities in the production chain and in DRIVE4EU (WP tasks). Corresponding WP numbers are given in brackets.

The industrial partners of DRIVE4EU, who are the initiating and driving force behind the project, are represented in three of the four steps of the production chain:
• KeyGene NV (NL); breeding and biotechnology (WP2).
• Tereos Syral S.A.S. (FR); extraction and processing inulin and fructose based products (WP5).
• GEA Westfalia Separator Group GmbH (DE); extraction apparatuses (WP5).
• NETSZCH Feinmahltechnik GmbH (DE); machinery for NR extraction (WP5).
• Apollo Tyres Global R&D B.V. (NL); conversion of NR into car tyres (WP6).
• MITAS a.s. (CZ); conversion of NR into off road tyres ( agro, industrial, moto, small aircrafts etc.) (WP6).
• QEW Engineered Rubber(NL); conversion of NR into polymer-based building products for sealing, damping and waterproofing (WP6).

Project Results:
Description of the work performed since the beginning of the project and main results so far

The strategic objective of the DRIVE4EU-project is to establish, and demonstrate the economic validity of a European production chain for natural rubber (NR) and inulin as building block for green chemicals, using Rubber dandelion (Taraxacum koksaghyz, TKS) as a production platform.
The specific objectives of DRIVE4EU are:
• To create TKS plants with higher productivities and to multiply new genotypes via seeds (WP2).
• To produce enough seed lots for large production fields (WP2).
• To develop improved agronomical methods for optimized cultivation (WP3).
• To establish the best methods to harvest and store TKS-roots (WP3).
• To gain knowledge on gene flow and competition between cultivated TKS and wild dandelions (WP4).
• To design a bio-refinery process that uses all valuable products from TKS-roots most optimally (WP5).
• To demonstrate the quality and applicability of NR and inulin by developing prototype products from these biomass components (WP6).
• To proof the economic viability of the Rubber dandelion-business case (WP7).
• To inform industry about the demo-results and raise awareness among the wider European public (WP8).

Main results so far:
• A good plan and organisation for the project, including all official agreements, has been set up, and the project is coordinated in a good way.
• Bi-yearly consortium meetings have been organised and scientific, management and financial progress reports have been produced
• A good dissemination and communication plan has been set up
• The project website was launched and is regularly updated and maintained; newsletters are being send out to stakeholders and are uploaded on the website
• Continuous dissemination has been performed via articles and interviews in the media, via presentations of the project at symposia, workshops and industrial platforms
• Seeds have been produced for agronomical tests and for pilot scale production fields
• Breeding of TKS is ongoing for improved rubber yield
• Insight is gained in genomic organisation and regulation of fructan synthesis in TKS
• Sympatric and parapatric dandelions have been collected at natural TKS sites and at former cultivation sites (used until 1950) and examined for gene flow; genetic analysis supported no evidence for gene flow.
• Agronomical experiments have been performed at different locations (Belgium, Netherlands and Kazakhstan) to develop a best practise protocol for sowing, cultivation, pest and weed control, harvesting and storage; protocol has been developed and documented in a report
• Root biomass has been produced and harvested for development of the extraction method; patent application was filed for extraction protocol
• A high throughput rubber analysis method has been set up
• A lab bio-refinery process for both inulin and rubber has been set up
• Information has been collected for a first insight in economic viability of TKS for NR and inulin production
• A report on general economic analysis of rubber and inulin from TKS has been produced

Potential Impact:
Description of expected final results and their potential impacts and use (including socio-economic impact and wider societal implications of the project so far)

The DRIVE4EU-project is a continuation of the successful EU-PEARLS project. In order to bridge the gap between research and the market and to commercialize the research results, DRIVE4EU aims to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility and potential of TKS. The demonstration includes two important innovations:
• Scaling-up of each individual step in the production chain: breeding, seed production, cultivation, extraction of raw material (NR and inulin), and conversion of raw materials in products.
• Extraction of inulin as valuable compound (besides NR). This concept was newly introduced into DRIVE4EU. The reason is that economically sustainable production of NR by TKS also requires the valorisation of additional biomass components.

All essential key elements for this demonstration project are in place. The project offers the European Union a unique competitive advantage, because DRIVE4EU relies heavily on the industrial expertise in the fields of 1) TKS breeding and 2) bio-refinery of inulin containing root crops. Most importantly, DRIVE4EU will bridge the gap between research and the market (while keeping a pre-competitive nature).

In DRIVE4EU we continue developing TKS cultivars (prototypes) that produce more total biomass and more rubber. Breeding material produced before is used for this, including the developed breeding tools. We are optimising the agronomical conditions for growth and seed production (both technical and non-technical). We are developing technology for harvesting and increasing the extraction efficiency of the two main products, rubber and inulin. TKS lines are grown at different locations in order to investigate the ‘genotype x environment’ interactions. The quality and properties of rubber and inulin in different applications will be investigated. Finally, an economic analysis of the whole rubber production chain will be made.

Socio-economic impact and societal implications

The economic optimization of the cultivation of TKS will make the EU less dependent of NR imports (resource diversification) and has the potential to create many new jobs in Europe. DRIVE4EU will boost the European economy, because it provides the EU with a valuable business case to create extra economic value from available land.

Green biotechnology refers to the use of modern plant breeding techniques to improve crops. The European seed industry is a highly innovative R&D-based business with an average R&D investment of around 15% of its annual turnover of approx. M€ 6.500. In DRIVE4EU, agricultural biotechnology involves non-transgenic technologies, such as marker assisted selection and mutation breeding. TKS is a typical flagship project to demonstrate the significance of modern breeding in fast domestication of new crops.
The strategic value of NR is undisputed and a tyre is a very tangible product to the general public. EU-PEARLS already led to much exposure in the media (papers, radio, TV). Therefore, DRIVE4EU can be considered as a showcase for what can be achieved with green biotechnology. It will make the EU consumer aware of the importance of plants and crops in their daily life.
Beyond the immediate impact for consortium partners, DRIVE4EU contributes to the establishment of a new agro-industrial business. The successful development of TKS will give new opportunities to growers in temperate areas elsewhere in Europe. Processing facilities will be distributed throughout Europe, creating new opportunities for farmers, SME’s and other businesses in rural areas.

Established rubber production from TKS will lead to new products and new markets. The availability of large amounts of well-characterized rubber will allow testing for further applications, such as tires, sealants and adhesives. The extraordinary high MW of dandelion rubber could also lead to new applications, where ultra-resilient materials are required. The resulting prototypes, materials and applications will play a major role in dissemination in later stages of the project. Apollo Tyres Global R&D, MITAS and QEW Engineered Rubber, as established rubber products manufacturers, will provide the necessary marketing and branding expertise to make the products visible to the extended audience.

The economic objective of DRIVE4EU is to prove the techno-economic viability of NR from TKS as a business case and to stimulate the commercial exploitation of the project results. The political objective is to make the European Union less dependent on imports from Southeast Asia, thereby increasing the competitiveness of Europe and boosting the European bio-economy.

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