A system that collects tyre dust – particles of tyre that are emitted when a vehicle is in operation – as they are emitted, has won its creators the James Dyson Award.
Tyres wear out from friction every time a vehicle brakes, accelerates or turns a corner and the particles emitted become airborne, which affects respiratory health. They are also swept into waterways and oceans, eventually entering the food chain.
A group of UK students dubbed The Tyre Collective have developed a solution to capture tyre particles at source by fitting a device that wraps closely around the edge of the tyre and uses electrostatics and the aerodynamics of a spinning wheel to collect particles as they are emitted.
“Everyone focuses on air pollution being directly from the engines themselves and coming out of the exhaust pipe,” said Hugo Richardson, one of four members of The Tyre Collective who are formed from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art students.
“But what people don’t necessarily recognise is that tyre wear is a huge contributor to that, and that’s partly down to its microscopic size and the fact that you don’t obviously see it all the time.”
It is estimated that around 500,000 tonnes of tyre particles are emitted annually in Europe alone.
The prototype device collected around 60 per cent of all airborne particles from tyres in a controlled experiment.
After being captured, the fragments can be recycled and reused in new tyres or other materials, the group has even printed business cards using ink made from collected tyre dust. Other possible applications include 3D printing and soundproofing.
“I think we all realise that clean air in our cities is not a pipedream anymore, but something that is immediately achievable with some clever innovation and some impetus from those in charge,” Richardson said.
As the shift towards electric vehicles accelerates, exhaust emissions will fall, but tyre particles will continue to pollute the air and the wider environment.
The team believes tyre emissions may actually increase, as electric vehicles become heavier due to added battery weight.