Audi Claims Lead in Trapping Tire Microplastics

Audi’s environmental organization is claiming a breakthrough in trapping microplastics from tires and brake linings that are polluting the waterways.

The Audi Environmental Foundation has developed filters for urban runoff in conjunction with the Technical University of Berlin. These claim to prevent tire wear particles and other environmentally harmful substances from being washed into sewers and bodies of water along with rainwater and, ultimately, polluting the oceans. Researchers now say initial field and lab tests have now demonstrated the efficiency of the system.

An estimated 110,000 metric tons of it ends up on the streets in the form of microplastics every year in Germany alone. The project began in 2020 with tests both on and off the road. Laboratory tests at the university have shown that the filters work very effectively. Without clogging up, the filters managed to permanently trap “genuine” street cleaning waste, cigarette filters, microplastics in the form of plastic granulates up to three millimeters in size, candy wrappers and lids of disposable coffee cups.

For more than a month, a filter has also been deployed on a busy road in Berlin. The UrbanFilter successfully mastered its first stress test during a series of storms in mid-February. It is due to remain in service at its present location until the end of the year. The researchers want to take samples both of the intake and of the water draining away to determine its effectiveness in real-life operating conditions throughout the seasons. Furthermore, initial discussions are already underway with the ADAC Driving Safety Center in Berlin-Brandenburg to install filters on its routes to gain a better understanding of the filtering of wear particles in different driving situations.

The sediment filters are divided into three zones – street, sewer, and drain – and consist of nine modules. Up to three modules can be combined to achieve the best result depending on the location. In the uppermost area (road), this might be a special runoff channel. Below this, in the sewer itself, larger solids are filtered out, for example, with the aid of an optimized leaf basket or what is known as a filter skirt. The lowest area (drain) is about fine filtration, for which a magnet module can be used.

“Our goal is to take preventative actions wherever possible so that fewer microplastics get into the environment,” says Rüdiger Recknagel, director of the Audi Environmental Foundation.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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