By Cameron Chai
Electric cars have been long known as eco-friendly, but researchers from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have proved that the impact of electric cars in China on pollution is more hazardous to health when compared to gasoline vehicles.
Assistant professor in environmental and civil engineering, Chris Cherry and graduate student, Shuguang Ji studied the emissions and the health impacts of five different vehicle technologies in around 34 important Chinese cities, targeted on unsafe fine particles. The findings of Cherry and his research team is against common beliefs: electric cars cause significant hazardous particulate matter pollution when compared to gasoline cars.
Particulate matter, which includes organic metals, acids, soil, metals or dust, is generated when fossil fuels are subjected to combustion. In the case of EVs combustion takes place when electricity is generated and in China more than 85% of electricity generation is from fossil fuels, of which 90% is from coal. According to the research team, the electricity generated to power electric vehicles produces fine particulate matter at a more rapid rate when compared to gasoline vehicles. The only difference is that the emissions related to the electric vehicles come from power plants that are far away from populated areas, hence people are exposed to the emissions at a lesser rate when compared to traditional vehicles.
Even then, the rate cannot be ignored since when considered in terms of the impact to air pollution, electric cars are more hazardous to public health in China when compared to gasoline vehicles.
According to Cherry, it is important that EVs are powered using clean energy sources. In China as well as in other places, electric vehicles must be deployed in cities with clean electricity generation and there must be improvements in emission control in power sectors with high pollution risks.
The effect on health was estimated in China with the help of emission rates and comprehensive emission data from literature for five types of vehicles that include buses, e-cars, e-bikes, diesel and gasoline cars.
The effect of e-cars was lesser than that of diesel cars but same as diesel buses. E-bikes posed the least environmental health effect for every passenger per kilometer. Cherry said that e-bikes are an eco-friendly and efficient transportation mode as they are battery-powered.
The findings have been published in the "Environmental Science and Technology" journal. The funding for the study was obtained from the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.