Reducing micro-plastics through technology

Tyre dust and micro-plastics in waterways may seem to be an invisible issue, however students from Swinburne University of Technology have visualised the problem.

In collaboration with CERN and Design Factory Melbourne, the students have applied their learning to develop innovative solutions.

The initial component of the design is Scanley, a scanner and imaging machine that brings into focus the microplastics that are hidden in water. The scanner uses CERN’s Medipix technology to visualise the chemical composition of materials in water samples.

The team installed the model on the Yarra River in Melbourne, to educate the public about microplastic contamination.

The next step is a prototype of an electrostatic plate that attracts and collects airborne tyre dust. The plat is mounted behind the wheels of a vehicle and is augmented with a vacuum suction device and a collection chamber.

Finally, and by 2030, the team have designed an automated kerbside cleaning robot that collects, sorts, and disposes of tyre dust, small particles and debris, avoiding these elements ending up in waterways and oceans.

The team were driven by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Combining goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, and goal 14, Life below Water, the team from Melbourne worked with other student teams from Porto (Portugal), New York (USA), and Mannheim (Germany). The students were able to meet up at CERN’s headquarters in Geneva to share ideas and spark collaborations.

The network drew on existing relationships garnered through the Design Factory Global Network, a web of innovation hubs in universities and research organisations.

With the outcomes, the tyre manufacturing industry has potential tools to limits its environmental impact, while broader society can be engaged to support manufacturers in their reduction of the emission of harmful waste into the environment.

Tyre dust, in particular, can be toxic if ingested, and contains more than 140 chemicals.