Pirelli Labs S.p.A.
The Group’s “innovation engine” is Pirelli Labs, the advanced research centre serving all the Pirelli businesses. Set up in 2001 with an investment of 135 million euro, the Labs extend over 13 thousand square metres in the Milano Bicocca area.
Pirelli Labs is the hub of Pirelli Group advance research and innovation expertise and is involved in a large number of research projects, working with various international universities and research centres, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Technical University, CNR, ENEA and the Milan Polytechnic, as well as other centres of excellence such as CORECOM and CORIMAV. Pirelli Labs also work closely with the research units of the Telecom Italia Group.
Pirelli Labs focuses on the following fields:
- New-generation optical components based on nanotechnology.
- New materials and processes for tyres.
- Sensors and remote monitoring.
- Fuel cell materials.
In 2007 two major lines of research came to fruition for the development of eco-compatible materials, processes and components. Specifically:
- The research of concrete industrial applications for the derivatives of end-of-life tyres (ELTs) found a significant application in the development of noise absorbent and impact sound insulation layers to be integrated into the walls and floors of residential buildings. The material and the process developed by Pirelli Labs have demonstrated that they can achieve levels of noise reduction meeting the most stringent regulations (standard ISO 140/7) and are in line with best market benchmarks. At the same time, the field test, conducted jointly with Pirelli Real Estate, involving over 2000 m2 of premium residential buildings, demonstrated their application in real situations with good installed performance.
- The cycle of experimental approval was also completed for poles for telecommunications networks, made of a composite material of recycled polypropylene and fibreglass, as part of the collaboration with Telecom Italia. These poles will replace current wooden poles impregnated with Chrome Copper Arsenic compounds, now banned by the European Union. The poles produced passed all the laboratory approval tests and were successfully installed at a Telecom Italia test site, in order to complete the field tests.
The building that hosts Pirelli Labs in the Milano Bicocca area
Work continued on the development, now firmly underway, of the powders for the production of ceramic materials for solid oxide fuel cells. Joint experimentation continued with the prestigious Canadian Alberta Research Council (ARC), where ceramic materials developed by Pirelli Labs have been employed effectively in the manufacture of electrodes for micro fuel cells for use in cathodic protection devices for gas and oil pipelines.
Again in 2007, the know-how built up during the fuel cell project, in the synthesis, processing, and characterisation of high temperature resistant ceramic materials, was applied in the development of the ceramic antiparticulate filters for diesel vehicles by Pirelli Eco Technology.
The joint work with Dupont also continued on the characterisation and optimisation of membranes for use in polymeric membrane fuel cells. The membrane developed by Pirelli Labs demonstrated that it was able to compete with the current market benchmarks, operate under high concentrations of methanol and use a process that was more environmentally friendly than the one used by the current fluorinated membranes.
The combination of these factors makes it a candidate to become a next generation industrial standard for the production of fuel cells to power portable electronic devices.
Worthy of particular mention is the large-scale testing of a network of low cost environmental monitoring stations. Indeed, the Pirelli Labs stations, control centre and management software were an essential part of the tests conducted by Pirelli with CNR, Telecom Italia, and the Municipality of Parma in the Parma region. The large number of sites monitored, the accuracy of the measurements, and ease of use, generated widespread approval for the Pirelli Labs monitoring system..
In the field of renewable energy, tests were conducted on a series of innovative prototype devices for photovoltaic current generation. In association with Telecom Italia and ENEA, studies were conducted on the most advanced systems based on solar tracking and photovoltaic concentration technology. The test results have given rise to a promising program of research, which will be developed by Pirelli Labs in 2008.
The development of polymeric compounds with high dielectric constant for the production of innovative antenna devices, conducted jointly with Telecom Italia, found a practical application in the development of Wi-Fi modules for broadband video and data transmission. The use of these new materials enabled the development of fully built-in antennae that, through their combination of high performance and reduced aesthetical impact, have made this Pirelli Broadband Solutions product innovative and unique.
In 2007, Pirelli Labs received an official visit from a delegation led by the Ministry of the Economy of the Canton of Zurich, interested in finding out about the photonic research and the innovative materials developed by this “centre of excellence”, as it is commonly referred to.