Pirelli Tires Made from Plants

If one thing has become clear in the course of our climate crisis, it’s that the world’s dependence upon fossil-derived fuels and high environmental impact materials must come to an end.

This is a dilemma that troubles many product industries, but especially the tire industry, which still relies upon natural rubber and certain fossil-derived materials for the production of safe tires.

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“…more than thirty different types of both natural and synthetic rubber may be used to make and define a new tire.” – Pirelli

Alongside its “Sustainable Natural Rubber Policy,” which mitigates the environmental impact of natural rubber sourcing, and as part of its overall “Sustainability Plan,” Pirelli strives to reduce fossil-derived material usage and shift toward an increasing percentage of renewable materials to produce its tires. Pirelli’s intention is raw material innovation and a commitment to finding low impact alternative sources to natural rubber.

Unlike fossil-derived fuels, which after extraction and use cannot be replenished, renewable materials emanate from natural resources that can be indefinitely “restocked” by natural (or chemical) processes. 

“…research and development of raw materials with low environmental impact: for specific product segments, by 2025 and compared to 2017, the doubling by weight of the used renewable materials and a 30% reduction of fossil-derived raw materials is expected.” – Pirelli 

Pirelli’s current efforts include the launch of an “R&D Roadmap” involving renewable, sustainable materials. Some of the material breakthroughs to date include: 

  • Innovative natural nanofibers that are used for high performance tires
  • Research into bio-resins, which can directly reduce dependence on petroleum and natural gas
  • Tailored lignin
  • High performance silica derived from rice husk (the hard, inedible coverings of rice grains)
Silica
Click for larger image.
  • Functionalized polymers can reduce fuel consumption while improving manufacturing efficiency (requiring less production energy expenditure) and improving tire performance and traction at the same time.
  • Synthetic rubber is supplied by Italian chemical firm Versalis and incorporated into Pirelli tires. (Thereby reducing the amount of natural rubber required.)
  • Guayule-based natural rubber has been tested and exhibits high performance, similar to the rubber from rubber trees. Guayale is “a renewable, non-food crop that requires little water usage, no pesticides and is an alternative source of natural rubber thanks to its latex allergy-friendly properties.”1

“Substituting petrochemical polymers with alternative and renewable primary materials is a key objective for Pirelli’s research division, which has been a leader in sustainable mobility solutions for many years. Alongside this development of new biopolymers as a key ingredient in compounds, Pirelli already uses renewable primary materials in tire production, such as silica obtained from rice husks.” – Pirelli.com

The Guayale plant is renewable plant-based rubber source
The Guayale plant is renewable plant-based rubber source

Needless to say, the transition to renewable materials has to coincide with painstaking tire safety and performance validation. It isn’t a process that can be rushed. Pirelli’s charted an ambitious course, though, and is committed to continued advancements in the journey to create tires from only sustainable, low environmental impact materials.

  1. http://www.thebiojournal.com/the-new-tires-are-bio-based/

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