A device designed to collect microparticles from car tires as they are emitted has won the team that created it a James Dyson award. A group of masters students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art that call themselves the Tyre Collective were awarded the UK prize of the international competition for their solution that could help reduce the devastating pollution caused by tire wear.
Modern tires are made of synthetic rubber, wire, plastic-based fabric and other materials and almost everyone at some point has had to replace a worn tire, because they gradually disintegrate through friction with the road.
In Europe alone, this produces 500,000 tonnes of airborne tire particles annually. A 2017 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that tires account for as much as 28 percent of overall microparticle waste in the world’s oceans.
The device is attached to the steering knuckle and is free to move and turn with the suspension. This makes it adaptable to different vehicles. It’s positioned close to where the tyre meets the road, with sufficient ground clearance and takes advantage of air flow around the spinning wheel.
The team discovered that rubber particles coming off the tire were positively charged due to friction. Using a single array of electrostatic plates on a test rig, the prototype design captured 60% of all airborne particulates. Captured tyre particles are stored in a cartridge within the device and collected during servicing. It is low energy and can be powered directly from the car’s alternator.
Hugo Richardson, M Deepak Mallya, Hanson Cheng and Siobhan Anderson – graduates of the Innovation Design Engineering MA/MSc programme jointly run by the two colleges – said they share a passion for the environment and using design to make a meaningful impact on society.
“As a team, our strength lies in our diversity,” said Hugo Richardson. “We come from all four corners of the globe and bring with us a wealth of knowledge in mechanical engineering, product design, architecture and biomechanics.
“It’s common knowledge that tyres [sic] wear down, but nobody seems to think about where it goes, and we were really shocked to discover that tyre [sic] particles are the second-largest microplastic pollutant in our oceans. At the Tyre Collective, we incorporate sustainable and circular values into product design to capture tyre wear at the source.”
Once captured, the fragments can be recycled and reused in new tires or other materials. The device can also provide real-time data on the rate of wear in relation to driving habits and environmental conditions. The group has printed business cards using ink made from collected tyre dust, while other potential applications include 3D printing, soundproofing or even new tire production.
A study published in Nature Communications reports that the Atlantic Ocean contains between 12–21 million tonnes of microparticle – or microplastic – waste, much higher than previously determined and they come from a variety of sources. For example, every time you wash clothes in a washing machine, tiny fibers are released and more often than not, they eventually find their way into the oceans.
According to a recent analysis of the impact of clothes washing, millions of tonnes of microplastics have been shed from clothing into the environment over the past 70 years. An estimated 5.6 million tonnes of tiny particles have been released into water and land environments between 1950 and 2016 – half of which has been released in just the last 10 years.
Car tires are the second-largest microparticle pollutant in the oceans after single-use plastic. Research recently undertaken by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research revealed that more than 200,000 tonnes of tiny plastic particles are blown from roads into the oceans every year.
Unfortunately, the problem is only set to get worse, at least in the short term, as electric cars tend to be heavier than their fossil fuel equivalents, which means more wear on tires.
Following their win in the UK section of the James Dyson award, the design will be entered into the international contest. The competitors are whittled down to a shortlist of just 20, which will be announced on October 17, then he overall worldwide winning submission will be announced on November 19. They will receive £30,000 ($38,800) in prize money, in addition to the £2,000 ($2,587) given to national winners.
Founded by British inventor James Dyson, renowned for pioneering the bagless vacuum cleaner, the award is in its 16th year and operates in 27 countries. It’s open to university students and recent graduates studying engineering, industrial design and product design. It recognizes and rewards innovative design solutions to global problems taking the environment into consideration.