Warning over tyre and brake dust particle pollution

Even all-electric vehicles will continue to produce harmful pollutants from tyres and brakes, a new report warns.

Although the car industry and consumers are moving towards lower emission or all-electric vehicles, government advisors say these steps may not be enough; suggesting brake dust and tyre particles now contribute to over 50% of pollution from road transport.

The warnings come from Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey and Transport Minister Michael Ellis, after a report published by the Air Quality Expert Group.

The report focuses on the replaceable nature of some car components. Both brake pads and tyres are considered ‘consumables’ – the more a car is driven, the more they deteriorate. Although wear is invisible to the naked eye; each time a car is used, friction causes tiny dust-like particles to be released – and the Air Quality Expert Group suggest these particles end up in the natural airstream.

While there is legislation in place to limit the emissions produced by engines and released through the exhaust; there is no legislation in place to limit or reduce other pollutants produces produced by vehicles.

As a result, the Air Quality Expert Group explain that the UK will see the proportion of non-exhaust emissions increase.

No electric solution

The manufacture and promotion of electric cars is recognised as the most significant step the car industry has ever made toward reducing emissions – however, on the surface, these particles appear to represent a problem that the rise of electric vehicles doesn’t seem able to tackle.

Like petrol and diesel cars, electric vehicles (EVs) rely on traditional tyres and brakes – although supporters of the technology say the way EVs are driven may not have been taken into consideration.

When a driver takes their foot off the accelerator in an electric-powered vehicle, the car slows itself more significantly than a petrol or diesel vehicle – meaning drivers will potentially rely less on the brakes – taking advantage of the car naturally slowing.

Transport alternatives

While highlighting the impact of tyre and brake dust might lead to legislation and changes in personal vehicle technology, some say a more radical approach to transport is going to be required. 

One of the authors of the Air Quality Expert Group’s report, Professor Jillian Anable, suggests the key to reducing pollution is encouraging people to more environmentally friendly forms of transport; especially those that help people move away from personal cars - and towards cycling, walking, or public transport.

Is the motor industry moving in the right direction?

While the report highlights that the proportion of emissions resulting from brake and tyre wear is set to increase, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the volume of these particles in the air will go up. 

In fact, the proportion of brake and tyre particles increasing is likely to highlight a significant fall in traditional engine emissions – something that leading industry sources have also pointed out – while also explaining some of the difficulties that surround the potential impact of non-emissions particulate pollution.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, explains: “The industry is committed to improving air quality and has already all but eliminated particulate matter from tailpipe emissions.

"Brake, tyre and road wear is a recognised challenge as emissions from these sources are not easy to measure."