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OWOE - Transportation - How much more environmentally friendly is an all-electric car than a gas powered car?
  Estimated damages for gas (left) and electric (right) cars by U.S. county (Holland et al, 2015)
 
Estimated damages for gas (left) and electric (right) cars by U.S. county (Holland et al, 2015)
 
How much more environmentally friendly is an all-electric car than a gas powered car?

Although all-electric vehicles are perceived as more environmentally friendly than gas powered cars, the answer depends on where the car is operated. To compare emissions for an electric vehicle it's important to consider all sources including battery manufacture and electric power generation. If a vehicle is recharged with power that comes largely from coal, that power results in more emissions than a gasoline engine. If its power comes mostly from natural gas, the electric vehicle results in fewer emissions.

A fascinating new study from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and published in the National Bureau of Economic Research studies the emissions produced by gasoline car tailpipes and the emissions produced by electricity grids that power electric vehicles (EVs) s for every US county. The researchers focused on five major pollutants: carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide (NOx), particulate matter (PM 2.5), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They considered 11 different 2014 models of EVs, as well as the "closest substitute" gas car. Whenever possible they used an exact equivalent, as with the Ford Focus, which comes in both electric and gas-powered versions.

The results of the study were in the form of environmental cost of driving a mile with both types of vehicles, with damage costs ranging from 1 to 5 cents per mile. The figure shown here summarizes the results with gas powered vehicles plotted on the left and EVs on the right. Green is lowest damage; red is highest. It can be seen that gas powered vehicles perform the worst in large, congested cities, while EV performance is regional based and linked to the predominant fuel source used for generating electricity. The bottom line is that currently there is no one preferred type of vehicle. And, of course, EVs aren't about the present, they're about the future. Assuming electricity grids will get cleaner, moving away from gasoline cars is the only way to approach a zero-carbon transportation sector.


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