Why a fully-electric mobile future will not save air quality (alone)

Globally, transportation amounts to ~25% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This, along with other emitted pollutants, translated to 385,000 deaths in 2015, resulting in $1 trillion USD in health damages. CO2 specifically is responsible for 64% of man-made global warming. Based on these statistics, it seems obvious that electric cars are the answer to improving global health and resolving climate change. However, the reality is that they won’t be enough. Here’s why.

Why electric cars are not the sole solution to a cleaner future

Electric vehicles are better than their diesel and petrol counterparts in that their motors are more efficient and don’t release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Indeed, research has found that when taking recycling into consideration, electric cars are ultimately better for the climate in 95% of the world, and that they are the future. It is projected that 1 in 2 vehicles will be electric by 2050, which would lead to a reduction in global CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatonnes per year.

Despite the good news, particulate matter (PM) emissions from vehicles still occur from braking and from tire wear. In addition, CO2 will continue to be generated during the intense manufacturing process. Research shows that cars with internal combustion engines cause ~10.5 tons of CO2, while electric cars produce ~13 tons during their manufacturing. How individual nations generate electricity is also an issue – anything from renewables to gas to coal is used to power the supply used to make and run electric vehicles, and these processes will continue to release pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Electric vehicles move the place of emissions creation outside of urban hotspots. Vehicle factories (and power plants) are often situated in more rural environments, resulting in a typically higher ecosystem capacity to absorb emissions, and less people breathing them in, compared to burning petrol and creating the associated emissions in downtown areas. This results in a positive societal health impact.

While electric vehicles are indeed greener and can improve air quality in urban areas after taking all emissions from manufacturing and generating electricity into account, the fact remains that harmful pollutants will still be entering the atmosphere. As long as the production process and electricity generation remains unsustainable, the issue of poor air quality is merely being shifted. Without implementing other measures targeting air pollution, it is impossible for us to achieve “zero emissions”.

Why monitoring air quality is the solution to a cleaner future

It is evident that even if society achieves a fully-electric future, poor air quality remains an issue that must be addressed. To that end, sensors and clean air actions are required. At Breeze Technologies, our lower-cost, small form factor sensors can be deployed to measure indoor, outdoor, and industrial air quality. They provide hyperlocal data on all the major pollutants, including the ones produced from the manufacturing and using of electric vehicles. The information is analyzed on our proprietary Environmental Intelligence Cloud, so that we can continue to deploy and achieve clean air solutions even as society moves to a more sustainable future. Contact us today for more information!