Electric vehicles may not be as clean as people think

January 2, 2015 1 By Amanda Giasson

Study finds electric cars may be dirtier than those powered by gasoline.

A study from the University of Minnesota, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that electric vehicles (EVs) that are powered by batteries that have been recharged with electricity produced by coal-fired power stations are likely to cause more than triple the number of deaths from pollution compared to conventional vehicles powered by gasoline.

The report analyzed the life cycle of car emissions.

The study was conducted by Jason Hill, Christopher Tessum and Julian Marshall of the University of Minnesota, according to The Economist. In their report, they looked at how clean emissions are for both conventional gas-powered vehicles and those powered by alternative fuel sources. They looked at the emissions created by the dirt that comes out of the exhaust and the emissions that are generated from the mining of materials for batteries, via the generation of electricity and the production of fuel.

What the researchers discovered was that electric cars with batteries that were recharged from solar, wind and hydro power sources were by far the cleanest, causing only 231 supposed deaths during the course of a year compared to 878 for gas cars. EVs recharged using natural gas-fired stations also caused fewer deaths (439) than gas vehicles.

Electric Vehicles - EV rechargingHowever, the outcome was very different for electric vehicles that were recharged using electricity from stations that were powered by coal. According to the report, based on the estimation model that was used, these EVs would cause more than 3,000 deaths via air pollution.

Electric vehicles are still cleaner than conventional cars.

That being said, in spite of what was found, electric cars still remain a far cleaner alternative to vehicles that depend on internal combustion engines, as long as the power that is used to charge the EVs is clean.

While this may not come as a big surprise, what this study reveals is that where electric vehicles are driven matters to how clean they actually are. For instance, they are likely to be clean in France, which obtains the majority of its power from nuclear stations but, in China, where most electricity is produced from coal, electric cars would be less green.