Tire maker honored for tackling electric car pollution

Electric cars are widely hailed as the future of transportation, but although they eliminate the problem of fuel emissions from tailpipes, the problem of particulate pollution due to tire wear has not been solved.

A British company named as a finalist for the Prince William Earthshot Award promises more durable tires that increase a vehicle’s range and reduce the release of toxic chemicals.

“We have very hidden, harmful pollution here,” Gunnlogur Erlendsson, founder and CEO of ENSO, which caters specifically to electric cars, told AFP. “We are exposed to it when we breathe.”

Studies show that due to decades of regulations that led to improvements in internal combustion engines, tire and brake wear is today responsible for far more small particle pollution than automobile exhaust.

Tire wear particles are also microplastics, with emerging evidence linking them to a range of effects on heart and lung health, as well as cancer, in addition to widespread environmental damage.

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For example, up to 28% of microplastics that reach the ocean come from tire wear.

Some research suggests that electric cars may be worse than gasoline and diesel cars on this front.

A study this year by research firm Emissions Analytics found that a Tesla Model Y was responsible for 26 percent more emissions than a similarly sized Kia Niro hybrid. The report’s authors said the electric car’s heavier weight and harder acceleration are to blame.

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Erlendson disagrees that electric cars present a unique problem – in fact, the problem of tire pollution has increased as vehicles have become heavier, with the US market in particular moving towards larger SUVs.

By using higher quality raw materials with better engineering, ENSO has been able to improve its tires in a market that has not prioritized durability.

During real-world trials organized by Transport for London, the company’s tires were shown to reduce particulate emissions by 35 percent and increase driving range by 10 percent.

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“Our energy savings are a direct carbon reduction because we still don’t live in a world where electricity only comes from non-carbon sources,” Erlendson said.

By contrast, the broader industry is focused on saving costs, manufacturing tires that don’t last as long and need to be replaced faster, in order to boost sales. Tire pollution researchers are calling for stricter regulation, which Erlendson agrees with.

He stressed that there are limits to everything that was said. “We won’t make tires last forever, but we can significantly reduce the pollution they produce,” he said.

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“But of course, if people don’t want to generate tire pollution, they shouldn’t drive.”

ENSO was among 15 Earthshot finalists honored Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

They are now in the running for one of five prizes worth £1 million ($1.24 million) awarded at a ceremony in Singapore later this year.

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