Automotive manufacturers must consider EV microplastics

Data from the IUCN highlights tyres as one of the main contributors to microplastics and EV manufacturers must consider this as they claim sustainability

Sustainability requires accountability and businesses are having to access their emissions across all facets of their industries. From the emissions reduction capabilities that electric vehicles (EVs) provide in alleviating tailpipe fumes to the design stage where cars must be designed to accommodate circular materials.

But, microplastics is a tricky conversation for any industry and is perhaps one of the most difficult pains to overcome. It’s one of the most critical areas for action. With more than 24.4 trillion microplastics across the globe that we can’t even see, it’s come to light that car tyres also contribute to this figure. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature is concerned about this as it believes tyres to be the second major source of microplastic pollution, which ends up in our oceans. An open study published at Nature Communications in 2020 presents data on tyre wear and brake wear particles, which contribute much more than expected to the global emissions from cars. 

EV components contribute to microplastics

Microplastics are known to be the silent burden on all areas of the planet. It’s even been suggested that plastics will become the primary materials to surround the earth’s crust. As sustainable as the EV business can be, tyre and brake emissions remain bothersome for the industry. 

Data from the study shows that three continents that house some of the largest economies are responsible for a significant portion of tyre and brake emissions. The industry research provides data on two different variations of particulate matter (PM). PM10 represents particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less, which are inhalable through the lungs. Much finer PM is defined at PM2.5. 

The highest participants when measuring the tyre wear particles (TWP) were:

  • Europe - producing between 42 to 82 kilotonnes (kt) per year
  • Asia - contributed 85 to 167kt annual PM10 TWP emissions
  • North America - responsible for 46 to 90kt 

The data also shows figures from other countries, including Russia (separated from Europe and Asia), Central America, South America, Africa and Oceania. 

How can tyre manufacturers reduce EV emissions?

Companies are already beginning to take action, but this will likely come at a premium. Companies like Goodyear, Continental and Hankook are working on alternative solutions to petroleum-based rubber tyres, which leverage a circular economy. Earlier this year, Goodyear announced its development progress of a new soy-bean-based tyre compact, which could alleviate the need for harmful materials. 

While initiatives, such as waste management, are critical for tyre manufacturers, more action is required to alleviate the harm that comes from tyre usage. Recycling is one of the easiest processes to implement across the board, but the reduction of microplastics and tyre emissions will come from earlier projects to eliminate them at the development stage.

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