I’m really not in the mood to type of an organized, professional-looking article this time so I’ll just get right to the bullet points on why there may be drastic “non-exhaust” pollution reduction in the future, so you can hold on to your Tesla:

Plastic Roads

Image from...eh, I dunno where but you can see the Gizmodo piece here.

“Tarmac,” “Macadam” or “Asphalt”road surfaces are mostly made up of petroleum products and can have a variety of consistency, from a tar-gravel aggregate to basically plasticized tar. They have many advantages over concrete road surfaces, such as being smoother, and one benefit touted by state DOTs is that they are much more recyclable - a machine can scrape up and grind an obsolete road surface for reuse being laid down somewhere else. Unfortunately the downside is that they produce much more particulate pollutants - and if Jason’s article seems counter-intuitive on how that can be, all you need to do is look at any well-worn tarmac surface (quite possibly the road in front of your very house) and see the tar-coated pebbles that clog the street’s gutters. Now, imagine those pieces being ground smaller and smaller not just by traffic but by weather-related forces, and those particles become small enough to get airborne.

A plastic road surface - a true plastic road surface, made of the exact same petroleum products that current tarmac is made of but chemically rearranged to resemble more of, say, a sturdy plastic shipping box - has the potential to be much more wear-resistant and thus producing significantly less airborne particulate. Granted the airborne pollutants would still be there, but reduction and mitigation still results in meaningful improvement. Being plastic, they would not only last longer but be just as easily recyclable (even completely relocatable) and easier and potentially more green to manufacture. They may also be easier on tires, reducing tire-contributed airborne particulates (a major problem even Jason’s piece somewhat understates - and why many municipalities prefer light rail to buses).

Electromagnetic brakes

Electromagnetic brakes use the force of magnetism to assist in physical-contact braking and some scientists hope one day they can completely supplant physical-contact braking altogether. In the course of Maglev trains, that literally hover over a track using magnetic force, non-physical contact pure-electromagnetic braking is one practical means of stopping such a train although physical-contact forms of braking are also widely used. A Maglev train (or an electromagnetic railgun) also perhaps best demonstrates how this principal works - at its simplest a train can be represented by a magnetic bar that if “floating” on a long track consisting of other magnetic bars. The “train” has polarity identical to the “track” and thus is “repelled” by the track. This is useful for floating, but not very useful for actual forward locomotion - to do that, some of the magnetic bars on the track ahead of the “train” have their polarities switched to be in polar opposite of the “train” and thus attracting the “train” forward. Since the attraction is strong enough to crash the bars on top of each other, the polarity is switched back to keep the “train” floating, but not too soon as to disrupt forward momentum.


But what if you want to disrupt forward momentum? Switch all the magnets on the track back to the same polarity as the “train” and it will come to a floating halt. And now you have braking!

Magnetic forces can also offer an assist to the rotor brakes on your car while also recharging batteries, just as they do on a Tesla. By reducing the stress of braking, it could more than make up for the added weight those brakes have to deal with.