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Tyre wear is the second largest source of microplastics: the solution from a UK start-up

Tyre wear is the second largest source of microplastics in our oceans and particulate air pollution. This is a little-known aspect of the environmental impact of tyres over their period of use.

A growing awareness of microplastics from tyres

Recently there has been an increase in awareness of the problem in Europe and North America with a shift towards environmental policies that also address emissions other than exhaust gases. The UK government's 2019 Call for Action on tyre emissions has driven global research to understand this pollutant. The Department of Toxic Substances control (DTSC) proposes that tyres with 6PPD should be regulated. Tyre wear has been added to California's Statewide Microplastics Strategy, which identifies initial actions and research priorities that will reduce pollution.

Fine dust from tyres: a widespread environmental problem

Tyre wear occurs when vehicles accelerate, brake and corner. These fine dust particles (<5 mm) release toxins into the environment and can cause effects on the environment as occurred with a mass salmon die-off on the west coast of the USA. Recently, this pollutant has also been found in the 50-year-old ice caps of Greenland.

According to surveys, in a single day, London's longest bus route produces 336 g of tyre particulate, enough to fill a box the size of a grapefruit.

Capturing wear particles

The Tire Collective is a clean-tech startup, founded in 2020 by three university students, with the aim of addressing the problem and reducing the impact of tyre wear on the environment. Born as a master's project at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, it now brings together people from different disciplines and sectors to tackle the complex problem of tyre wear.

The startup has developed an innovative system for collecting rubber particles that become airborne during tyre wear. Their system, called 'Tire Collective Airless', consists of a series of devices installed on the mudguards of vehicles that capture rubber particles that become airborne during driving.

An innovative device based on electrostatics

Exploiting the electrical charge generated on particulate matter due to friction with asphalt, the patent-pending technology uses electrostatics and airflow to attract particles, actively removing PM from the atmosphere. The fuel-efficient solution has minimal impact on vehicle mileage and captures PM from 0.3 to 136 microns (μm).

According to the inventors of The Tire Collective, their system could reduce rubber-related microplastic emissions from tyres by 60 per cent, safeguarding human and environmental health. In addition, the company claims that their system could also reduce vehicle fuel consumption by reducing tyre weight.

The main target is logistics fleets. From delivery and maintenance vans to buses and trucks. In the long term, the start-up aims to scale our devices in all vehicle segments and integrate them into new electric vehicles (EVs) globally.

Micronised rubber: a resource for the circular economy

The recovery of micronised rubber is a well-established sector that saves raw materials and energy. When used in the retreading of truck tyres, it can save up to 60 kg of raw materials and 50 kg of carbon dioxide.

The particles captured with this technology are smaller than those produced industrially and have a larger surface area, which can be better for processing.

Commitment to produce more and more sustainable tyres

It is not only start-ups that are at the forefront of improving tyre sustainability. Michelin, Continental, GoodYear and Bridgestone have the goal of achieving 100 per cent sustainability between 2030 and 2035 (read the article here:

In particular, Continental is also experimenting with ConTire.Tex technology, which aims to use textile fibres obtained from recycled PET bottles.

Sustainability rhymes with performance, so much so that Yokohama is testing tyres with 33% recycled material in the SuperFormula Championship.

Rubber Conversion, the Italian devulcanisation start-up

Even in Italy there is excellence in the recycling of rubber from ELTs or production waste. The Veneto-based startup Rubber Conversion uses an innovative mechano-chemical technology to obtain high-quality devulcanised rubber. In this interview, Filippo Fochesato Colombani, CTO of Rubber Conversion, talks about its development plans for 2023.

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