WOOSTER, Ohio—Katrina Cornish has taken on many roles in more than 30 years as a world-renowned researcher in alternative sources of natural rubber.
As of Feb. 28, Cornish added a new role: scientific adviser to a start-up hydroponic dandelion rubber company, Chicago-based American Sustainable Rubber Co. L.L.C.
ASR chose Cornish for her extensive research into developing hydroponic indoor cultivation of the Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS) dandelion, as well as her general experience in alternative rubber production, bio-based fillers and feedstocks from agriculture and food processing wastes for value-added products and biofuels.
Hydroponic cultivation of the TKS dandelion offers a lot of advantages, Cornish said in a telephone interview from her office in Wooster. Cornish retains her position as Ohio research scholar and endowed chair of bio-emergent Materials at Ohio State University-Wooster.
"Hydroponics allow for very rapid growth, and there are no weeds, which is the number one advantage to hydroponics," she said.
There also is no dirt with hydroponics, Cornish said, and once you reach a certain level of cultivation, the replication of roots is much faster than with traditional farming.
"You can have multiple harvests in a year," she said.
ASR is a wholly-owned subsidiary of United American Healthcare Corp., but that doesn't mean ASR plans to aim for the health care market, according to Cornish. Dandelion rubber is better suited to industrial rubber products than it is to medical goods, she said.
"It's more of a supplement to Hevea rubber than an alternative to it, like guayule," she said, referring to the southwestern desert shrub that is the TKS dandelion's main rival as an alternative NR source. Dandelion rubber doesn't have the freedom from allergenic proteins that guayule does, she said.
As a researcher with the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornish developed and patented a method of extracting protein-free latex from guayule.
She later served as vice president of research and development for Yulex Corp., the company that licensed the USDA guayule patent. Since 2013, she has been CEO of her own company, EnergyEne Inc., which is focused on development of high-performance latex gloves and other products made from guayule latex.