A device that captures microplastic particles from tyres as they are emitted – and could help reduce the devastating pollution they cause – has won its designers a James Dyson award.
The Tyre Collective, a group of masters students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, scooped the UK prize of the international competition with their solution for the growing environmental scourge of tyre wear caused by road transport.
Every time a vehicle brakes, accelerates or turns a corner, the tyres wear down through friction and tiny particles become airborne. This produces 500,000 tonnes of tyre particles annually in Europe alone. Globally, it is estimated tyre wear accounts for nearly half of road transport particulate emissions. It is also the second-largest microplastic pollutant in the oceans after single-use plastic.
The winning device is fitted to the wheel and uses electrostatics to collect particles as they are emitted from the tyres, taking advantage of air flows around a spinning wheel. The prototype, which the designers said is a world-first, collected 60% of all airborne particles from tyres under a controlled environment on a test rig.
Siobhan Anderson, Hanson Cheng, M Deepak Mallya, and Hugo Richardson – 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 wear down, but nobody seems to think about where it goes, and we were really shocked to discover that tyre 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 tyres or other materials. The group has printed business cards using ink made from collected tyre dust, while other potential applications include 3D printing, soundproofing or even new tyre production, creating a closed-loop system.
Recent research 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. The problem could get worse as the UK increases use of electric vehicles, which tend to be heavier than comparable petrol or diesel models due to their batteries, meaning more wear on tyres.
The invention will be entered into the international contest for the final leg of the James Dyson award in November. The overall worldwide winner will receive a further £30,000 in prize money on top of the £2,000 given to national winners.
The award, which is in its 16th year, operates in 27 countries and is open to university students and recent graduates studying product design, industrial design and engineering. It recognises and rewards imaginative design solutions to global problems with the environment in mind.