Reducing pollution in cities with electric cars

Posted by Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling

One thing we’ve come to expect with the rise of electric vehicles is that pollution levels in areas where these are driven will drop, even if just slightly.

Given the newness of mass adoption though, there’s only so much data out there to collaborate our assumption. A new three year study out of the United Kingdom does, in fact, support this viewpoint, which is certainly good to hear.

The study, conducted by researchers from Newcastle University, found that “not only could electric vehicles reduce transport-related pollution in our cities, they also produce less CO2 per km than a combustion engine, even when the pollution associated with electricity generation at power stations is taken into account.” In terms of specifics, it was indicated

the team found that for all the electric vehicles in the study, their carbon efficiency was better than an equivalent internal combustion (IC) engine vehicle. An average new build IC produces around 140g CO2/kg (not counting CO2 produced during fuel production / transport, which adds around 15% to the total emissions), while the average carbon output for the EV’s used in the trial was 85g CO2/kg (based on a UK electricity grid mix).

More than 200 volunteer drivers took part in the study, according to Newcastle, and that “using in-vehicle loggers, details such as distance travelled, route, driving behaviour and re-charging times” were recorded and analysed for over 71,600 electric vehicle journeys and 19,900 re-charging events. The 44 EVs involved in the trial traveled a total of 403,000 miles and saved 76,000 kg of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

2013 Nissan Leaf at 2013 Detroit Auto Show (image copyright EarthTechling)

2013 Nissan Leaf at 2013 Detroit Auto Show (image copyright EarthTechling)

The university, in collecting data prior to the study to more specifically understand pollution effects, noted that daytime air pollution levels in towns and cities regularly exceed the U.K.’s government’s recommended 40µg m-3 (21 parts per billion) for prolonged periods. It also pointed to a 2011 government report, which indicated that poor air quality “reduces life expectancy in the UK by around eight months and that up to 50,000 premature deaths in the UK every year are attributable to air pollution.”

Funded by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, the three-year investigation is part of a major £10.7million trial, said Newcastle, focused upon seeing what electric vehicles will make life like for those driving them and the environment around them. The findings came from a team that, besides the university, included as well Future Transport Systems, Nissan, Avid Vehicles, Simon Bailes Peugeot, Smith Electric Vehicles and Liberty Electric Cars.

“This has been a huge undertaking over the past three years, involving almost 200 volunteer drivers from across the North East to help us build up the first true picture of what a low carbon transport system might look like in the future,” said Phil Blythe, Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems at Newcastle University. “And what we’ve demonstrated is that EVs are a viable alternative to combustion engine vehicles for many drivers and would help us tackle rising pollution levels.  Local authorities should look at policies that will encourage electric vehicle adoption to reduce traffic related pollution in their urban areas.”

Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling