The environment around us is exposed to many different synthetic microparticles, potentially harmful for plants and animals. Some of these particles come from car tires and road surfaces and are generated when we drive.
With almost one and a half billion cars on the roads - and no signs of this number falling - , these particles pose a serious pollution problem.
If large, the particles end up in small piles along the road and from here they can be carried by rainwater runoff to oceans and rivers. Smaller particles may be carried far away by the wind - even to deserted areas where there are neither cars nor roads.
Solving this challenge is important for creating a more sustainable world.
"Even the green electric cars of the future will have tires. If the tires are to be sustainable, we need solutions to minimize particles from tires and roads", says Carsten Svaneborg, a physicist at University of Southern Denmark.
In order to advance our understanding of such particles called tire road wear particles (TRWP) and improve the materials used for tires, he and fellow researchers have received support from European Partnership for Advanced Computer Computing for the Good of Society, PRACE. The support is given as access to the supercomputer Joliot-Curie in France and has a value of DKK 15 million.
The fellow researchers are Ali Karimi from the tire manufacturer Continental in Germany and Ralf Everaers from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France.
"Our aim is to help understand how complex polymer structures work", said Svaneborg.
Such insight is crucial if you want to improve tire structure and performance.
You might think that tires are made entirely of natural rubber, but most are comprised of a significant amount of complex synthetic polymer materials.
Every time we drive and especially when we accelerate, break or shift gear, small particles are worn off the tires. In addition, particles are worn off the road surface.
Both particle sources are of interest to Carsten Svaneborg, because they may be controlled by the tires, we put on our cars.
"This grant gives us the opportunity to run some advanced simulations of tire rubber on a supercomputer. The goal is to get a detailed insight into what is going on - right down to the molecular level - so we can get a better understanding of how tires wear", he says.
In addition to understanding tire wear, project partner Continental is also interested in gaining more insight into the friction that occurs when tires meet the road, as many issues about tire and road wear particles are still unresolved and not scientifically proven.
"Over the past few years, significant collaborative efforts have been made to develop calculation methods for tire rubber. The granted computing capacity will allow us to perform comprehensive simulations that help us understand tire and road wear particles. The results of this basic research will enable us to make the materials we use for tire construction even more sustainable in the future", says Andreas Topp, Head of Materials, Process Development and Industrialization of the Tires business area at Continental.