Prototype device gathers microplastics from car tires
While we may think of car exhaust as being a major source of air pollution, automobile tires also hugely contribute to microplastics pollution. A new vehicle-mounted device could help, by gathering the rubber particles that those tires shed.
By definition, microplastics are fragments of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters in diameter. Along with coming from car tires, they're also produced as chunks of plastic waste break down into smaller pieces; as the microbeads used in products such as toothpaste enter the environment; or even as synthetic clothing sheds fibers while being washed.
Upon entering waterways, the particles may subsequently be eaten by fish, which are in turn consumed by humans. In the case of the tire-rubber microplastics, which are found mostly on city streets, they can also be inhaled.
A team of British arts and sciences students, known as The Tyre Collective, decided to do something about the latter. The project was led by the students (MA and MSc students studying Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London), and advised by Prof. Robert Shorten from Imperial College. They developed a prototype device that sits adjacent to a car's tire, close to where it touches the road.
It's mounted on the vehicle's steering knuckle. Needless to say, automobiles could be equipped with one device per wheel.
As the tire rolls, charged rubber particles fly off of it and are collected electrostatically within the device's storage unit. That unit is in turn periodically removed and emptied, so the fragments can be recycled.
According to the Collective, particles smaller than 50 microns could subsequently be used in the production of new tires. Possible uses for the larger fragments include 3D-printing media, soundproofing materials, inks and dyes.
The prototype has already been tested on a stationary lab-based rig, that subjects tires to the sort of friction they would experience while in use on the road. Team member Hanson Cheng tells us that they hope to commercialize the technology as soon as possible.
The project received support from InnovationRCA.