A couple of months ago I wrote about the roadside pollution from electric cars – the particles from tyres and brakes. In the UK, non-tailpipe emissions are around 8% of air pollution, so it’s not a huge contributor to the problem. But due to the weight of their batteries, electric vehicles may produce more tyre particles than fossil fuel vehicles, and so it may be a more significant source of pollution in future. If we want electric cars to live up to the ‘zero emissions’ labels that many of them already boast, we’re going to need better tyres.
Particles from tyres also enter watercourses and are a significant contributor to ocean pollution, giving us a second reason to pay attention to this more or less invisible environmental problem.
Enso is a start-up that is developing tyres specifically for electric cars – the first to do so that I’m aware of, and potentially ahead of a rush in that direction. That means they will be designing for efficiency, in order to maximise range. They’re also working on durability, and a cleaner, lower carbon tyre.
In order to create the right incentives for this, Enso are working to a circular economy model. They plan to cut out the middle men and supply directly to customers on a pay-per-mile basis. There aren’t many details yet, but that suggests that the company keeps ownership of the tyre and essentially provides it as a service. That flips the financial priorities around – where normal tyre companies make more money from tyres that wear out faster and have to be replaced, Enso will profit from durability and fewer customer service visits.
We’ll have to wait and see how that works, and if they can get enough of a foothold in a market that is dominated by some very big and very complacent companies. As I’ve described before, there is plenty of talk of better tyres, but currently no reason why the big manufacturers would start making them. If they were to make a robust and puncture-proof tyre, they would make less money. And so the world burns through over a billion waste tyres a year – though no international body appears to be responsible for counting.
If Enso can develop a truly circular business model for their tyres, that may prove to be far more significant than the reduction in particles from electric cars. But ideally they’ll do both, and put a big dent in an industry that has coasted on disposability for a century.
Enso are currently running a fundraising round on Crowdcube, so if you fancy owning shares in the company, now’s your chance.