EVs might mitigate tailpipe emissions; but cars emit another massive, overlooked form of pollution: Tire particles. The Tyre Collective is spearheading the monitor of tire wear and capturing tire particles at the source.
Every time someone brakes, changes direction or accelerates in a car, the planet suffers — and no, not just due to the impact of burning fossil fuels. In fact, there’s another major pollutant linked to driving that many are unaware of — microplastic particles from tire wear and tear.
Along with microfibers from synthetic textiles, paint particles and single-use plastics, tire particles are one of the world’s largest and littlest-known microplastic pollutants and a significant source of air pollution (accounting for 50 percent of air particulate emission) in our environment — 6.1 million metric tonnes of tire dust enters our air and waterways each year.
The impacts of tire pollution are being seen on a global scale — the resulting microplastics are an inescapable and unavoidable presence, and tire-related chemicals in waterways have been linked to the mass death of coho salmon in the US’ Pacific Northwest.
“Tire wear and its polluting effects have not been addressed until now, because we didn’t know to look for it,” Hanson Cheng, co-founder and CEO of UK-based The Tyre Collective, told Sustainable Brands™. “We all know tires wear down, but never consider where all these particles go. Whilst public awareness on tire wear is limited, within the industry, it is a well-known problem.”
As the world shifts away from traditional, gasoline-powered cars and moves towards electric vehicles, exhaust emissions are predicted to reduce; however, due to the additional battery weight and torque of EVs, tire wear pollution is projected to get worse (up to 1,000 times worse if left unregulated). It seems that future vehicle pollution will not come from exhaust, but from tires.
Ensuring that one form of pollution is not replaced by another, The Tyre Collective is spearheading the monitoring and capture of tire wear and accelerating the shift towards true zero-emission mobility — by capturing tire particles at the source.
“In the transition towards zero-emission mobility, the primary focus to date has been on CO2 and exhaust emissions. Zero emission is not just about CO2 — it includes particulate matter (PM) and microplastics,” Cheng explains. “Without capturing tire wear, transport will never reach zero emission.”
The Tyre Collective’s award-winning technology works by capturing the charged carbon in rubber particles as they wear off the tire. The tiny particles are caught by a device containing electrostatically charged copper plates. It is positioned close to where the tire meets the road, taking advantage of airflow around a spinning wheel. It is the first on-vehicle device to capture tire wear at the source.
“We discovered that tire particles are charged from friction with the road. What started off with rubbing a balloon against a sweater eventually led to our device that uses electrostatics and airflow around the wheel to capture tire particles,” Cheng explains.
After the particles are captured, the company’s circular solution ensures the collected waste does not go straight to landfill.
“Captured tire particles are a form of micronized rubber; so, they can be upcycled into a variety of applications such as tire treads, bitumen, soundproofing — creating a closed-loop system,” Cheng says.
The Tyre Collective is currently testing its device via a three-month trial with London-based, zero-emission logistics company Zhero. Previous laboratory tests showed that the Tyre Collective’s device pulls in 60 percent of airborne emissions by mass; the Zhero trial will allow the company to assess how the device copes when implemented in real-life scenarios.
“We are testing the attachment and robustness of the device, and control units — assessing how much tire wear we can capture per day, week and month under normal driving conditions. The learnings and results of this trial will help inform the next stages of development,” Cheng relays.
The company is aiming for a soft product launch in mid-2024 and will start adapting the device across vehicle segments and explore integration. By 2027, the Collective is hoping to scale the device across different vehicle segments globally, integrate the technology into new EVs, and mitigate tire wear at scale.