Editorial Feature

Electric Vehicles - How Clean are Electric Vehicles?

The least polluting form of transportation available today is an electric vehicle. Electric vehicles can operate very economically, at the same time using no or very little petroleum fuel.

Do Battery-Operated Electric Vehicles Pollute?

There are a number of different types of electric vehicle. These varieties include battery electric vehicles (BEV), hybrid electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles (FHEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV).

Battery electric vehicles run on electricity that is stored in batteries. This electricity also provides electrical power to our homes and generally comes from generating plants.

Hybrid electric vehicles uses an internal combustion engine to drive small on-board generating plants for the production of most of the electricity. Gasoline, diesel or alternative fuels can be used to run the hybrid electric vehicle.

Fuel cell electric vehicles are powered by an electric motor that is charged by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel cell draws in oxygen from outside the vehicle to react with hydrogen stored in the cell. FHEVs do not produce any harmful emissions, with only water being produced as a waste product.

Producing the hydrogen used to refill the fuel cell causes approximately the same amount of emissions as recharging a plug in vehicle using electricity sourced from fossil fuels.

“Zero emission vehicles” are sometimes used to refer to battery-operated electric vehicles. Battery-operated electric vehicles do not directly pollute through fuel evaporation, fuel refining or tailpipe emissions. However, a certain amount of pollution is associated with the use of battery-operated electric vehicles comes in the form of power plant emissions.

The pollution levels of these battery-operated electric vehicles remain extremely low even when these emissions are taken into account. This is due to the fact that the generators and motors used in electric vehicles are much more efficient than the powertrains of internal combustion engines.

The Efficiency of Battery-Operated Electric Vehicles

The efficiency of battery-operated electric vehicles is further added by the technique known as regenerative braking. Regenerative braking involves absorbing the energy during slowing and stopping a vehicle. This energy is then converted to electricity, which may be returned and stored in the vehicle’s on-board battery. In a conventional vehicle, this energy is simply wasted as heat.

How Clean are Battery-Operated Electric Vehicles?

Battery-operated electric vehicles remain cleaner than gasoline-powered vehicles even when the electricity that the battery-operated electric vehicles comes from polluting fuels like coal. This is because of the high-efficiency electric powertrains used in battery-operated electric vehicles and the fact that modern coal-burning generating plants produce electricity more efficiently and with fewer emissions than they did in the past.

The environmental benefits from using battery-operated electric vehicles are set to increase with time. The generation of electricity continues getting cleaner as older, dirtier generating plants are taken out of service and replaced with newer, less polluting ones, and as pollution-free solar or wind generators come on-line.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 23rd May, 2019.

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