ENSO, selected as a finalist for Prince William's prestigious Earthshot Award, promises more durable tires that improve vehicle range and reduce toxic particulate emissions.

"There is very dangerous and hidden pollution," CEO and founder Gunnlaugur Erlendsson told AFP. "We are exposed to it wherever we breathe."

In recent decades, regulations have contributed to the improvement of combustion engines, but tires and brakes remain a weak point, now responsible for more particulate pollution than exhaust pipes, according to studies.

As tires wear out, they emit microplastics, the impact of which on health and the environment is of increasing concern to specialists.

For example, up to 28% of microplastics found in the oceans come from this tire wear.

And some research suggests that electric vehicles could be worse than diesel in this respect.

According to a study by Emissions Analytics, the Tesla Model Y is responsible for 26% more emissions than the Kia Niro hybrid, which is similar in size. A difference attributed to the weight of the electric and the more difficult acceleration.

Not eternal

But Erlendsson rejects the idea that electric cars are the only ones causing problems. For him, pollution related to tires has grown at the same time as cars, especially in the American market fond of SUVs.

By using better quality materials combined with better engineering, ENSO was able to improve its tires.

In tests organized by Transport for London, the British capital's public transport agency, its tires showed a 35% lower particulate pollution and a 10% increase in range.

"The energy savings we enable is a direct reduction in carbon emissions, because we still don't live in a world where electricity only comes from non-carbon sources," the CEO said.

This industry sector is usually focused on reducing costs, making tires that do not last and need to be replaced faster, to multiply sales. Researchers in this field are calling for stricter regulations, a demand supported by Erlendsson.

But there are limits, he acknowledges. "We won't be able to make tires that last forever, but we can greatly reduce the pollution they create."

"Of course, if people don't want to create pollution from tire wear, they shouldn't drive," he said.

ENSO is one of 15 finalists honored Tuesday among the finalists of the Earthshot Prize, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The company remains in the running for one of five million-pound ($1.24 million) prizes to be presented at a ceremony in Singapore later this year.

© 2023 AFP