An eco-journey inside a tyre

Pirelli Research & Development produces increasingly more sustainable products employing new materials and with innovative uses of traditional components

Home Life Sustainability mobility An eco-journey inside a tyre

Safety, reliability, performance. Pirelli is constantly researching how to give consumers what they want from tyres more and more. But more than ever the focus is on identifying renewable, recycled and innovative materials that make tyres more environmentally friendly. The evolution of research today has set new goals in the use of innovative materials during production and treatment.

These innovative materials will gain importance during the coming years and are the cornerstones of the new sustainability objectives of Pirelli. In particular, Pirelli has set the goal of using over 40% of renewable materials, over 3% of recycled materials and less than 40% of fossil-derived materials in the new product lines by 2025. By 2030, on the other hand, the use of renewable materials will be over 60%, that of recycled materials over 7% and that of fossil-derived materials under 30%.

The objectives are ambitious considering that today consumer tyres – on which Pirelli is entirely focused – are made with an average percentage of less than 20% of renewable and recycled materials.

But what are the renewable, recycled and innovative materials in Pirelli tyres? Natural rubber, which is an important element in Pirelli tyres, is an irreplaceable element in tyre production and the perfect example of renewable raw material. After extracting of the latex, the Havea brasiliensis tree that produces it will make more very fast and will continuously regenerate itself. Pirelli guarantees the correct treatment of this valuable raw material also with the Sustainable Natural Rubber Policy. Developed by Pirelli in 2017 following consultations with international NGOs, major rubber suppliers, traders and farmers along the supply chain, the policy was created to promote and develop sustainable and responsible sourcing of natural rubber throughout the value chain.

Another example of renewable material on which Pirelli is working is silica (an important component of the tyre compound) derived from rice husks. Rice husks are the outer shell of the grain and make up 20% of the weight of raw rice. They are an interesting by-product of this crop and available in very large quantities in many parts of the world where they are not yet fully exploited. Pirelli has played a key role in the development of technology for the production of silica from rice husks, with processes having a lower environmental impact (Carbon Footprint) than traditional sand silica processes.

As far as recycled materials are concerned, Pirelli reuses materials derived from the post-treatment of end-of-life tyres in its compounds, such as powder and regenerated de-vulcanised rubber reduced to a size suitable for reuse, in addition to the so-called Recovered Carbon Black (obtained from the pyrolysis of end-of-life tyres). Currently, the use of these materials is limited to avoid compromising the mechanical characteristics of the tyre. Given the rapid development of new technologies, we can expect the quantities to grow significantly in the production of new tyres while maintaining key safety and performance characteristics.

Other renewable or recycled materials have already been introduced into the Pirelli portfolio or are currently being industrialised, such as biofillers (lignin and sepiolite), plasticisers/resins of vegetable origin and textile reinforcements with fibres from renewable sources (rayon).

The combination of these materials will increasingly contribute to a reduction in the proportion of materials of fossil origin currently in use in tyre production.

The sustainability of a tyre does not end, however, with the use of renewable and recycled materials. Pirelli has 2,100 people devoted to Research & Development worldwide in the headquarters in Milan and the 12 technology centres located in various geographical areas. They are all constantly committed to improving safety, lowering rolling resistance and optimising tyre performance through the use of innovative materials (functionalised polymers, modified silica, hybrid reinforcements) and next-generation processes.

A decisive factor on this path of continuous innovation is the close collaboration with major national and international universities that allows direct access to the scientific community according to an Open Innovation model. Besides, collaborations in Joint Development Agreements with leading material suppliers ensure direct access to the latest technologies and accelerate the development and industrialisation of cutting-edge materials.