Tire Pollution from EVs: Rubber Hits the Road in Real Time
[Editor’s Note: Tire pollution! Who knew? The law of unintended consequences always applies to all those “expert” plans, program and schemes that special interests foist on us.]
Regulators are finding it is time to work on tire pollution as electric vehicles are expected to be produced in mass in the future, and heavy electric vehicle tires wear out faster. When tires make contact with the road, tiny particles are abraded and emitted, causing pollution. Tires on average contain about 200 components and chemicals and are made from oil—a commodity that is not politically correct under the Biden administration because it emits carbon dioxide.
The extra weight of heavy electric vehicles due to their batteries also makes tires wear out quicker. About 2 billion tires are produced globally every year and tire manufacturers, including Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin and Continental, are under pressure to reinvent their production and to fend off competition from cheaper Chinese manufacturers, who have been rapidly gaining world market share. The manufacturers want to get ahead of the regulators’ edicts and find alternatives.
- The extra weight of heavy electric vehicles due to their batteries also makes tires wear out quicker.
- About 2 billion tires are produced globally every year and tire manufacturers, including Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin and Continental, are under pressure to reinvent their production and to fend off competition from cheaper Chinese manufacturers, who have been rapidly gaining world market share.
- EU and U.N. regulators are working to curb emissions from brakes and tires, which could be agreed on by next year with new standards due to be in force by mid-2025.
Tires contain a toxin, 6PPD, an antioxidant and antiozonant found in all tires for reducing cracking. California is expected this year to demand tire manufacturers demonstrate they are seeking an alternative to 6PPD — a degraded form of which is lethal to some fish and has been found in human urine in South China. Developed during the Korean War, when 6PPD reacts with oxygen or ozone it forms 6PPD-quinone, which has been blamed for mass deaths of Coho salmon off the U.S. West Coast. Californian regulators say 6PPD’s impact on human health is unclear but are finalizing documents that could require tire manufacturers to analyze other alternatives.
Michelin, Continental, and Pirelli are pursuing alternatives to 6PPD, but some manufacturers believe that collective industry action may be necessary to find solutions. According to the tire industry, finding a replacement for 6PPD is hard because any new chemical must prevent tires degrading and cracking without affecting other attributes. Also, Michelin and Goodyear have reported that tires on heavy electric vehicles can wear out up to 50 percent faster than their gasoline or diesel counterparts because of the heavy battery weight. Thus, an unintended consequence of electric vehicles is that there will be more tire pollution unless tire manufacture is reinvented.
The European Union is planning to set standards for tires in its upcoming Euro 7 emission regulations. EU and U.N. regulators are working to curb emissions from brakes and tires, which could be agreed on by next year with new standards due to be in force by mid-2025. According to the European Commission, particles from tires are expected to be the largest source of microplastics potentially harmful to aquatic life by 2050. The report estimates 52 percent of the small particle pollution from road transport came from tire and brake wear in 2021, plus a further 24 percent from abrasion of roads and their paint markings. Only 15 percent of the emissions came from the exhausts of cars and a further 10 percent from the exhausts of vans and HGVs.
Some tire manufacturers are looking for a global abrasion standard with transparent labelling for consumers or worldwide standards to squeeze the higher emitting tires that are usually cheaper out of the market, many of which are being manufactured by Chinese companies. The Chinese makers of Rockblade, Mazzini and Ovation are among the worst-performing tire brands being tested.
New tires being developed so far are unlikely to solve the problem. For example, while tests carried out on Continental bicycle tires made using dandelions show a 24.5 percentdrop in carcinogenic aromatics — which help cars hug the road — the chemicals in the particles they emit, while different, are similarly toxic overall. Continental said its dandelion tires were developed to find a sustainable form of natural rubber.
Michelin estimates that globally tires emit around 3 million metric tons of particles annually – and create another 3 million metric tons of particles from road surfaces. Michelin’s tests show that if you drive 200,000 kilometers (124,274 miles) a year on its tires, you’ll emit about 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of particles, compared to a market average of 3.6 kilograms. The worst-performing rival tires Michelin has tested so far emit around 8 kilograms per year. Michelin and Continental are already focused on making their tires more durable — Michelin cut its tire emissions 5 percent between 2015 and 2020. The shift to electric vehicles means tire-makers will be forced to develop more durable tires – a tough challenge without natural rubber, which would be difficult to develop sustainably enough to support the entire industry.
Regulators in California and the European Union are expected to work on standards to cut tire pollution feeling that the transition to electric vehicles is a good time for the tire industry to reinvent itself. Tire pollution occurs when particles from tires are abraded and emitted with contact on the road. And, tires from electric vehicles due to their heavy batteries wear out quicker than tires for traditional vehicles, making more pollution as more tires will need to be manufactured in the future. It seems as though the more mandates and “good ideas” politicians cook up, the more problems they cause, perhaps because they know little about what happens when “the rubber hits the road.”
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