A UK start-up, The Tyre Collective, is attempting to address one area of environmental damage that a shift from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles (EVs) cannot address – the microscopic pollutants released through tyre wear.
As EVs become mainstream, engineers and innovators are exploring how to minimise other pollutants from transportation.
Vehicle pollution until now has exclusively focused on exhaust emissions.
Innovation by a UK startup company, coupled with scientific analysis, could drive policy and corporate attention to this neglected area.
Particulate matter and microplastics released by tyre wear has been an overlooked area in the history of regulation of emissions, yet updated research from global testing and data specialist Emissions Analytics found tyre-related pollutants to be 1,850 times greater in volume than exhaust emissions.
The release of microplastics through tyre wear is also a huge source of pollution in the oceans and ground as well as the air. Now a UK start-up has designed a small attachment to the tyre that can both monitor and capture 60% of these emissions.
Particulate pollution by tyres unregulated but found to be 1,850 times worse than modern car exhausts
Regulations have traditionally been centred on the management of tailpipe emissions. In fact, vehicle exhaust emissions were early examples of EU attempts at emissions regulation.
The Euro emission standards by which cars had to abide in the EU, and to which manufacturers had to design cars accordingly, started in 1992 with Euro emission 1.
This mandated 2.72g/km HC + NOx: 0.97g/km for petrol. Euro 6 now has tightened this to CO: 1.00g/km HC: 0.10g/km NOx: 0.06g/km PM: 0.005g/km PM: 6.0×10 ^11/km. With the onus on electric cars to take over in the coming years, the problem of emission pollution from cars seems to be one that is being solved. Not so.
Emission Analytics first released data that tyre emissions were 1,000 times greater than tailpipe emissions. Tests showed that properly inflated tyres of a family hatchback emitted 5.8g/km of particles compared with 4.5mg/km from the exhaust. The consternation this caused prompted further scrutiny.
A reiteration of tests weighing different sorts of tyres before and after driving actually found that the release of particulates, captured by a particle detector, by tyre wear was 1,850 times more than by the exhausts of most modern cars.
The figure is slightly slanted as the comparison stands against modern cars fitted with modern exhaust filters. These filters capture soot that can lower emissions by a factor of 1,000. On the other hand, the exhausts do degrade and barely perform at that level.
The concern as articulated by Emission Analytics is that electric vehicles with their battery packs exert greater weight on the tyres so leading to greater wear.
Tyre pollution affects ground and water more than air
The heavier density of tyre particles means it does not linger in the air for long but enter waterways and the water cycle making it a greater problem for the soil and water.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has found that tyres are the second largest source of microplastic pollution in oceans.
Device invented to capture tyre particles
Enter multi-award-winning start-up The Tyre Collective, whose mission is “to mitigate tyre wear emissions in our environment,” on the basis of it being “the stealthiest and second-largest source of microplastic pollution in our air and water,” and that “tyre wear is projected to increase due to the added battery weight and torque.”
The innovators behind the company have designed a device that in testing captures 60% of all airborne particles. On advice from Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics, the box is now being positioned close to where the tyre meets the road to take advantage of airflow around a spinning wheel.
The four cofounders came up with the project during their MA/MSc in Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. Going for the closed loop, they are aiming for these captured particles to be separated and put to use in other applications.
The company is currently in the R&D stage and they are aiming for a soft product launch in mid-2024.