Research and development of raw materials

The research and development of innovative materials are key to the design and fabrication of ever-more sustainable tyres that guarantee reduced environmental impact, greater driving safety and improved production efficiency.

For this purpose, Pirelli has entered several Joint Development Agreements, such as the study of new polymers for rolling resistance, performance in low temperature conditions, durability and grip.

In accordance with the Open Innovation Model, Pirelli works with universities to develop a natural rubber obtained from sources other than the rubber tree. Research is aimed at diversifying the potential supply sources, thereby reducing pressure on the biodiversity of producer countries and allowing the company to manage the potential scarcity of raw materials more flexibly.

Studies are also underway on a new technology for selective de-vulcanization to recycle the materials resulting from discarded tyres. This would significantly reduce tyre production costs and environmental impact.

Pirelli Research & Development also focuses on:

  • biomaterials, such as silica from renewable sources;
  • high-dispersion silica for wet grip, rolling resistance and durability;
  • high-performance carbon black derived from racing competition applications for extreme grip;
  • nanofillers for more stable compounds, lighter structures and highly impermeable liners.

Focus: from rice husks to silica

One of the principal biomaterials on which Pirelli has concentrated its research is silica from rice husks. The company has already industrialised the process, and this biomaterial is being produced at some Group’s Brazilian plants. By 2015, 30% of the silica used by Pirelli in Latin America will be derived from rice cultivation scrap.

The production of silica from rice husks also allows the recovery of material and energy, as well as a significant reduction in the quantity of CO2 generated by the production of traditional material.

In particular, rice husks are composed 20% of silica and 80% of largely organic substances that, when burned, generate the energy necessary for the process.

The ash obtained from this process contains an extremely high percentage of raw silica.

Further processing renders it suitable for use as a raw material in tyres. This process is carried out at a temperature of several hundred degrees, but still at lower temperatures than those used in traditional processes. The absence of fossil fuels in the production process - and the consequent reduction in greenhouse gases - is one of the principal advantages of this technology.

The production of silica from rice husks by Pirelli stands as a clear example of how innovations in the area of materials can contribute both to the exploitation of by-products that would otherwise be only partially reused, and the eco-sustainability of production processes. All of these benefits are accompanied by economic advantages that can be immediately related to the efficiency of the process.