When the subject turns to air pollution caused by vehicles, we automatically think of exhaust fumes and all the nasty toxins that are released by petrol- or diesel-burning engines during the combustion process. There is, however, another major cause of pollution that is thought of less but equally dangerous: the tires.
Just driving around every day causes tire wear, which in turn is the second-largest source of particulate air pollution and microplastics in the world’s oceans. These small plastic particles are not only bad for humans, but they also endanger all other living things around us. Until now, there hasn’t really been a solution for what is a massive problem—but a startup from London wants to change that.
The Tyre Collective has developed a device that sits directly behind the tire, and catches particles released by the rubber before they have a chance to hit the road or escape into the air around the vehicle.
It works by utilizing electrostatic plates that attract the particles, and during tests, the device was able to capture non-exhaust emissions (NEEs) with particle sizes ranging from 0.3 to 100 microns, among them not just tire wear from the test vehicle, but also brake wear and rubber abrasions from other cars and trucks nearby.
These real-life tests were carried out over thousands of kilometers with the help of London-based logistics company Zhero, and already give a good indication that the startup is onto a really great idea.
While exhaust emissions are getting ever cleaner and ICE vehicles ever fewer, the switch to electric cars brings with it an increase in tire wear and associated pollution. EVs tend to be heavier than diesel or petrol cars due to the large batteries they have fitted, and this in turn causes their rubber boots to wear out faster. A device to capture tire wear may also be required by law at some point.
The new Euro 7 framework, for example, already mentions particulate emissions generated by brakes and rules for microplastics production due to tire wear. The problem the company is trying to solve is certainly a big one. Today, half a million tons of tire-wear particles is produced annually across Europe alone, but the cleantech startup doesn’t stop at just trying to capture all of this pollution.
Instead of just burying collected microplastics in a landfill site or burning them in an incinerator, the team is planning to upcycle the material. Captured rubber bits could thereby be used as retreads for truck tires, saving valuable raw materials and reducing environmental pollution during the production process.
Whichever way you look at it, the concept makes sense, and there seems to be a rather urgent need for a device like this. Right now, it is being aimed at and tested with fleets of commercial vehicles like delivery vans, trucks, and buses, but who knows: Maybe one day, all cars will be fitted with a device like this to keep the air around us a lot cleaner. It sure sounds like a great idea.