The Group’s “innovation engine” is Pirelli Labs, the advanced research centre serving all Pirelli businesses. It was created in Milan in 2001 with an investment of 135 million Euros.
Pirelli Labs is the hub of Pirelli Group advanced research and innovation expertise and is involved in a large number of research projects. It works with various international universities and research centres, including the Joint Research Centre at Ispra, CNR, ENEA, University of Milan Bicocca, Milan Polytechnic, Turin Polytechnic, and other major labs such as CORIMAV, Consorzio per la ricerca dei materiali avanzati (Consortium for Advanced Materials Research). Three-year doctorate degree scholarships have been funded under the auspices of Corimav at the Department of Material Sciences at the University of Milan Bicocca with research topics focused on environmental sustainability and renewable energy.
Pirelli Labs cooperates with other Pirelli business units, with short-term and long-term results. Its projects are increasingly focused on the creation of “green” products using materials, technologies and processes for sustainable development.
Pirelli Labs has expertise in the following fields:
- solutions for renewable energy
- new materials
- tyre recycling
- solutions for eco-building and energy efficiency
- innovative materials for sustainable development
- materials and solutions for fuel cells
- innovative antenna solutions for telecommunications
- materials for applications in the fashion sector.
Solutions for renewable energy
In the renewable energy sector, Pirelli Labs is particularly active in developing photovoltaic technologies. Following a carefully planned series of experiments with all major technologies, both conventional and innovative, carried out together with ENEA, photovoltaic concentration was identified as the most promising solution for reducing costs (which currently represent the principal limit on penetration of this technology).
Photovoltaic concentration, which is based on systems of specially developed plastic lenses, makes it possible to use up to one thousand times less photovoltaic material than conventional technologies, by using low cost assembly processes borrowed from the automotive industry. Pirelli Labs, working closing with its parent business unit, Pirelli Ambiente, is developing innovative solutions to increase efficiency in the conversion of modules and simplifying the assembly process. The aim is to reduce the cost of producing electricity from solar power at costs lower than energy from fossil fuels. Other joint projects with Pirelli Ambiente have Pirelli Labs working on the development of innovative solar trackers, to be used both on conventional and concentrated photovoltaic cells that can significantly increase energy yield.
They are characterised by their low visual impact design, great resistance to high wind and modular development, which facilitates installation.
Two products developed by Pirelli Labs set important milestones in 2008:
- Silerex™ (a registered trademark of Pirelli) is a patented and certified sound insulation material. Comprised of low environmental impact materials (granules of recycled rubber) and a polymer binding agent in water emulsion, it represents an innovative solution for development of sustainable building. A non-exclusive patent and know-how license was recently granted to an Italian firm operating in the sector;
- field trials of prototype third generation eco-sustainable poles, initiated in 2007 at the Telecom Italia testing site, concluded successfully by demonstrating that the product is reliable. To exploit this result, contacts are currently being made with external companies that might be interested in acquiring the production technology license.
Available know-how for the recycling of materials enabled Pirelli Tyre to reuse industrial scrap through the assessment of technologies, processes and new solutions for using rubber powder. The aim is to reduce the environmental impact of industrial scrap to a minimum and increase their reuse through the recovery of materials and energy.
Solutions for eco-building and energy efficiency
Cooperative efforts continue with Pirelli RE to conduct research on materials, products and low impact systems that will improve the quality of buildings.
The proposed materials must be recycled and, if possible, recyclable themselves or natural or from renewable sources, and always characterised by a low impact LCA. Once they are integrated in the design, they must enhance energy efficiency and liveability. A significant example of a sustainable product is represented by the Silerex™ sound insulation described above.
Innovative materials for sustainable development
Collaboration with Pirelli Eco Technology continued in 2008 on the development of ceramic particulate filters for diesel powered cars. A research project was begun in order to identify an oxidation catalyst of particulate “free of noble and toxic metals” to be applied on the filter to permit passive regeneration.
Once the optimum composition and its response to thermal aging have been determined, Pirelli will have an effective, proprietary solution that can contribute to reducing urban air pollution.
In regard to raw materials, alternative processes were identified for the production of silicon carbide, starting from biomass resulting from the processing scrap of agricultural products. Once Pirelli specifications are satisfied, the economics of the process will be assessed in order to prepare a key raw material from a renewable source.
Materials for application to fuel cells
Pirelli Labs is also active in the sector of fuel cell energy generation systems. It has developed a particularly versatile polymer electrolyte free of halogens that performs outstandingly in cells fuelled both by hydrogen and direct methanol.
Innovative antenna solutions for telecommunications
The development of integrated antenna solutions continued for application to broadband access devices using WiFi technology. The spread of the new 802.11n standard, which exploits the MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technique with the use of two or more antennas, has raised the even more urgent need to integrate the antennas inside the devices themselves. An ADSL modem designed and developed by Pirelli Broadband Solutions for a European telephone operator was equipped with a pair of internal stamped circuitry antennas with a spatial configuration protected by a Pirelli patent. The device will be produced and sold in 2009.
A potentially significant solution that is currently being studied calls for an adjustable antenna to be installed in wireless extender devices that make it possible to connect the TV receiver by cable (IPTV) with the ADSL modem without it being necessary to install cables between the different spaces where the modem and receiver are housed.
Thanks to its ability to guide the radiated power in the best directions for making a connection, the integrated adjustable antenna inside the wireless extender will make it possible not only to create a smaller, more attractive device, but also to optimise its performance and reduce the emission of electromagnetic energy in directions that are not useful for communication (thereby limiting this form of pollution).
Materials for applications in the fashion sector
The technical and scientific expertise developed in Pirelli laboratories have also been applied to provide innovative support to PZERO brand products. Activity in the fashion and footwear sectors is focused on identifying and transferring technologies that can lend special properties to the materials used.
Characteristics such as breathability and water and oil repellency are essential for outerwear that can be used in most seasons. The aim is to realise these characteristics through eco-compatible processes without changing the appearance and consistency of fabrics or skins. Joint efforts have been undertaken with major tanning groups, textile companies and research groups in order to consolidate the synergies necessary for industrialisation and application of the processes. In 2009 research is also continuing on active substances that can lend particular effects to skins and fabrics.
Milano Bicocca, Italy. Pirelli Labs.