New materials and apps tackle air pollution from braking cars

Tackling emissions from vehicle exhausts to reduce air pollution is a well-known challenge, but vehicles also emit non-exhaust emissions caused by wear and tear on brakes, tyres and roads. EU scientists are studying the problem and are developing novel solutions to cut brake emissions.


The road sector is responsible for around 11 % of particulate matter air pollution – particles that are less than or equal to 10 micrometres in diameter and could trigger adverse health effects, including respiratory issues. According to European Environment Agency data, about 25 % of the road sector’s share of particle pollution is estimated to come from tyre and brake wear.


Aiming to reduce brake particle emissions by 50 %, the EU-funded LOWBRASYS project has studied brake emissions and has developed two solutions using new, more durable materials for brake discs and a particle-capturing system for brakes.


“Our challenge is to develop a new generation of transport technologies able to make road transport cleaner and more efficient, leading to improved air quality,” says Guido Perricone, material development manager at Brembo, Italy, and LOWBRASYS project coordinator. “We are also contributing to discussions on possible future stricter legislation on vehicles’ non-exhaust emissions and EU air quality.”


Greener and safer


When a driver uses the brakes to safely stop a car, the brake pads clamp the brake discs. This wears down both the discs and the pads, releasing debris into the air that can be inhaled. “For this reason, the European braking community has decided to act to make braking greener as well as safe for road users,” says Perricone.


The project is investigating four main approaches: novel brake-disc and pad materials that are more durable; systems that could capture the suspended particles released as a car brakes; mechatronic smart strategies that can improve the distribution of the braking force on all four wheels; and apps for drivers that could teach them to brake in a more environmentally friendly way while staying safe.


The LOWBRASYS team has already developed disc and pad material that reduced the volume of particle emissions by around 90 % during tests and cut the total mass of particle emissions by around 17 %. The discs differ from current technology as they have ceramic coatings on top of conventional cast-iron brake discs, while the pads are specially formulated to fit on the new disc surface.


Project scientists have also developed a capturing system able to cut the volume of emissions by an additional 11 % and the total number of particles by 58 %. The system is fitted just after the brake caliper and conveys the particle air stream towards a filter point.


Tech-based approaches


The novel brake-disc and pad materials can easily be integrated into existing cars during normal maintenance, while new cars could be fitted with the LOWBRASYS set of low-emission brake solutions from the start.


The team is now working on two IT-based approaches, including an app that allows drivers to see their braking pattern during a journey and could encourage them to slow down earlier. Researchers are also evaluating non-exhaust emissions to rate their toxicity to human health and the environment, using ethically approved testing methods on human cells and algae. “These tests will build up a strategic know-how that will be used to engineer greener materials,” says Perricone.


Project details

  • Project acronym: LOWBRASYS
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator) , Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Czech Republic, Sweden
  • Project N°: 636592
  • Total costs: € 9 464 576
  • EU contribution: € 7 436 849
  • Duration: September 2015 to August 2018


Source: European Commission – Press Releases


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