SAN DONATO MILANESE, Italy (March 20, 2013) — Italian synthetic polymer producer Versalis and Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. have agreed to jointly research the use of guayule-based natural rubber (NR) in tire production.
The joint research project will run over three years, the companies said, and calls for Versalis — the chemicals business unit of the petrochemical firm Eni S.p.A. — to provide exclusively an "innovative range" of guayule-based natural rubber materials and for Pirelli to carry out trial tests to validate the performance of the materials for tire production.
"This new partnership between Versalis and Pirelli builds on a series of initiatives to develop technologies for tire applications with a focus on performance and energy efficiency," said Versalis CEO Daniele Ferrari. "Both companies are well-established industry leaders at an international level; they represent a sound model for undivided commitment to all levels of research, including the green sector."
Maurizio Boiocchi, chief technical officer for Pirelli, said the company "has always been dedicated to the development of innovative solutions that prioritize sustainability, and this means safety and respect for the environment. In this regard, it is essential to prioritise research on renewable raw materials, an area where we hold industry leadership at an international level.
"The research project into guayule-based natural rubber is one of our key activities that fully engages our team of researchers; it also underlines the strategic importance of long-standing partnerships like the one we have announced today with Versalis."
The agreement with Pirelli follows the formation last year of a partnership between Versalis and Yulex Corp. USA for guayule production and the construction of an industrial complex to be based in southern Europe.
As soon as industrial quantities of guayule from the European facility become available, Versalis will supply Pirelli with guayule-based NR to complement the range of synthetic rubbers that Versalis already supplies Pirelli for making conventional tires.
Guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is a renewable, non-food crop that requires little water usage, no pesticides, and is an alternative source of NR thanks to its latex allergy-friendly properties, Versalis said.
The agreement fits with Versalis' strategy of pursuing partnerships with key leaders in the field of bio-based chemical products, the polymer firm said, as well as its plan to develop innovative technologies in the elastomers business.
From Pirelli's point of view, the agreement extends the tire maker's search for new materials from renewable sources — especially from biomasses. Pirelli already produces tires with raw materials derived from rice husk — the inedible part of the grain usually used as fuel — and has a goal of reducing its reliance on fossil resources.
Versalis was created following the rebranding of Polimeri Europa. It represents a renewal of the historical importance of the chemicals business within Eni, Mr. Ferrari said last year.