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New study looks at health impact of electric vehicles

Are electric vehicles good for your health? A new study from the University of Minnesota, University of Tennessee and Tsinghua University investigates.

It compared emissions – CO2, PM2.5, NOx and HC – from conventional vehicles and electric vehicles, including electric cars, light scooters and bicycles. The study was partly motivated by the rise in popularity of electric bikes in China– known as e-bikes – which is seen as the single largest adoption of alternative fuel vehicles in history. There has been an 86 per cent annual growth rate over the past decade.

The study is important because in China, 85 per cent of electricity production is from fossil fuels – with around 90 per cent from coal. Indeed most electricity generating units in China lack advanced pollution controls and so it is not clear-cut that electric vehicles would automatically be “better” than conventional vehicles for drivers’ health.

It found that concentration rather than intake is optimal for health comparison – because electricity generation typically occurs further from people than exhaust emissions meaning intake values are usually lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles.

Among the findings were that electric vehicle emission factors vary based on the city they are in; and that PM2.5 emission factors are usually lower for conventional vehicles than they are for comparable electric vehicles.  It believes that compared to a new Euro IV petrol car, average electric car emission factors are around the same for CO2 and 19 times higher for PM2.5 – but e-bikes outperform cars, buses and motorcycles on most emission metrics.

The study concludes therefore, that replacing petrol cars with electric cars results in increased CO2 from combustion emissions and all-cause mortality risk from primary PM2.5.

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Paul Lucas

Filed under: Electric cars


Alex Kovnat

On the basis of the above, where we are told that emissions from coal-burning power plants are having adverse health impact in China, the conclusion I come to is this: Despite Fukushima, the world ought not to give up on nuclear energy.

Further recommendations I would like to make: While we might not like the way some Middle Eastern nations govern themselves, it might be better for China, emissions and health-wise, to combine more use of nuclear power with importation of liquefied natural gas from Iran or Saudi Arabia instead of domestic coal-burning. Natural gas can be used for electric power generation and is also a satisfactory fuel for motor vehicles, though perhaps not 2-wheelers.

Since we Americans as well as China continue to consume large amounts of coal for electric power generation, we ought to work together to develop improved emission control technology, which includes preventing not only particulates but also noxious elements like mercury from being discharged into the environment.

Jean Philippe Cornelis

After the Fukushima and Tchernobyl disasters we know that nuclear energy is much to dangerous for the environment.

Electric cars shoudn't be drived by electricity from coal, gas or oil power station (70% Carnot loss) either, but by solar energy coming from solar pannels (f.i. Desertec projects) and windmills, but we must surely improve our storage capacities.

On every roof of a house, you can put photovoltaïc pannels providing electricity for more than 15.000 kms a year.
At that moment electric cars are surely the less polluting mobility tools, with the best well to wheel return.
Creatopia for Sustainable Development


This study does not take into account the pollution from the electricity required to refine gasoline, only the pollution from the electricity required to charge the cars. These amounts are about equal, and it ignores all the pollution from the entire oil extraction and transport process. Most studies take all this into account in a "well to wheels" comparison for gas and electric. This would be a real apples to apples comparison and it always shows that EV's create much less pollution overall (see for a summary of 30 different studies). What they did here (I read the report and emailed the author at UT to verify) is a "station to wheels" comparison which only looks at a small part of the big picture and is extremely misleading.

So much for "GreenCar" website, very disappointed that people are promoting this misinformation.

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