A new MOBI publication, by Nils Hooftman and Luis Miguel Oliveira, titled ‘Environmental Analysis of Petrol, Diesel and Electric Passenger Cars in a Belgian Urban Setting’ – is the most detailed analysis of human health impact of Electric Vehicles.
Urban regions throughout the world suffer poor air quality levels and transport has a big contribution to this problem. Electric vehicles (EVs) offer a cleaner solution, as they do not produce any pollutants while they are driving. In a not so distant past, EVs have been falsely criticized for being nearly as polluting as a conventional petrol car, and this due to the particulate matter (PM) emission that originates from brake, tire and road abrasion. In this recently published research by MOBI, this statement is countered scientifically by assessing the impact of a drivetrain technology (i.e. petrol, diesel or electric) on local air quality by looking at them in a much broader scope.
When taking into account realistic emissions of regulated pollutants such as (among others) nitrogen oxides (NOx) and PM that is measured at the tailpipe, plus a list of unregulated pollutants such as (among others) non-exhaust PM, the picture completely changes in the favor of EVs. Zooming in on PM (Figure1), the differentiation must be made between the emission production stages. Firstly, there is the PM emission during the processing of the energy carrier(fuel or electricity), which is represented as the Refinery-to-tank (RTT)share. Secondly, conventional passenger cars produce PM whilst driving, this is shown by the Tank-to-Wheel (TTW) share. Thirdly and of specific importance for this article, there is the Non-Exhaust (NEx) PM share, due to brake, tire and road wear. As EVs have no TTW emissions of PM, they only contribute by means of the brake and tire wear.
Widening the scope, the assessment can be made based upon the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY), which are induced by harmful emission by the transportation sector. As can be seen in Figure 2, driving electrically results in the lowest impact on healthy years that are still ahead of us. Notice the impact of TTW emissions by diesel technologies, which nevertheless remain to be dominant in the European passenger car market.
Figure 2: The human health impact for the different drivetrain technologies
To conclude, the authors have shown that throughout all relevant categories, EVs maintain to be the most viable solution for the impact on local air quality. If one adds up to opportunities of charging the EVs with 100% renewable energy and the possibilities of using the EVs battery capacity in an intelligent electricity grid, the days of conventional (fossil fuel burning) vehicles for e.g. city transportation are over.