New research from Northwestern University shows that electric cars improve overall air quality and lower carbon emissions – even when the electricity is produced by combustion sources.
The study looked at the differences in air pollution generated from battery-powered electric vehicles versus regular, internal combustion engine cars. It found that electric vehicles have a net positive impact on air quality and climate change, even when the electricity to charge the batteries and power the vehicles comes from combustion sources.
“In contrast to many of the scary climate change impact stories we read in the news, this work is about solutions,” said Daniel Horton, senior author of the study. “One technologically available solution is to electrify our transportation system. We find that EV adoptions reduces net carbon emissions and has the added benefit of reducing air pollutants, thereby improving public health.”
The researchers focused in particular on two pollutants related to transport and power emissions: ozone and particulate matter. Both are main components of smog and associated with a variety of health problems, including asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
“Across scenarios, we found the more cars that transitioned to electric power, the better for summertime ozone levels,” said first author Jordan Schnell. “No matter how the power is generated, the more combustion cars you take off the road, the better the ozone quality.”
While ozone levels increased slightly in wintertime in their scenarios, particulate matter – more commonly known as haze – decreased in the colder months. The results were all the more drastic in locations with clean energy sources as opposed to coal-fired power.
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