Think back to the last time you took the tube, ran next to a congested road, or walked in the countryside. Air pollution is tangible in a way that other planetary emissions may not be, and the benefits of tackling it may be more apparently and instantaneously.
Public Health England says that ‘Poor air quality is greatest environmental risk to public health in Great Britain.’ Prolonged exposure to air pollution can affect the lungs and heart with chronic diseases and cancer. Short-term exposure may worsen asthma and affect lung function. In total, it is estimated that air pollution is responsible for 28,000-36,000 for early deaths per year in Great Britain.
What can we do about it? Air pollution is a major issue with many interconnected causes and solutions. So especially we need to look at EVs and air quality, asks: how do electric cars reduce pollution?
How clean is our air?
In the UK, air pollutants come primarily from man-made sources such as vehicles, space heating, agriculture and electricity generation. Natural sources include wind and soil dust, sea spray and burning vegetation.
The main types of air pollution are:
- particles (PM),
- nitrogen oxides (NOx),
- sulfur dioxide,
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
While the level of air pollution in the UK has declined since the 1970s, in the last decade, progress has been mixed:
Data source: Defra.
Ammonia emissions has increased in the last few years. They are mostly caused by agricultural practices such as spreading manure, manure and manure. It can cause acidification of water sources and soil.
NONEx pollution is a serious concern – it violated the legal levels of 75% of the UK in 2019. It has gradually decreased as new vehicles have to be ever cleaner, but this was somewhat prevented due to many diesel cars cheating their emissions test. The highest levels are concentrated around major roads, so often requires local measures to limit the harmful effects (such as clean vehicle zones).
The great reduction in sulfur dioxide pollution mainly due to the collapse of coal as a power source in the UK.
Particle emissions has fluctuated slightly but is largely unchanged since 2009. Fine particles (PM2.5, those below 2.5 micrometers) are those that can be drawn deep into the lungs and cause the greatest health risks. Which has been growing calls for the United Kingdom to adopt Recommended limits of the World Health Organization for contamination of particles (10μg / m3 to PM2.5), which are stricter than them established by the EU (25 μg / m3).
Cars and air pollution
The main types of air pollution related to cars are particles and nitrogen oxides:
Data source: Defra.
As we have seen, these two have serious health effects and have proved difficult to reduce in recent years. So can electric vehicles make a difference?
Do electric cars reduce pollution?
Like all vehicles, electric cars still produce greenhouse gases from theirs manufacture and fuel production treat.
If car production is powered by renewable energy, as in Tesla’s factories, this can greatly reduce production emissions. In the same way that the mains used to charge the car is carbon-coated, fuel emissions fall away. On a personal level, you can speed this up and reduce your transport carbon footprint by choosing one supplier of renewable energy or charging from clean energy on site sources such as solar energy.
On average, a Nissan Leaf has it one third of lifetime emissions pr. km driven as a similar internal combustion engine in the UK.
Less talked about is particle pollution caused by wear on tires and brakes, Which one a new study claims could be up to 1,000 times higher than the PM emissions from the car’s exhaust. More worryingly, this can be exacerbated by heavier vehicles like SUVs and unfortunately EVs with their heavy battery packs. As small pieces of synthetic rubber are discarded from decks, rain washes them off the roads into streams and eventually the ocean. It is estimated up to 28% of microplastics in the sea could be from car tires. But there is hope – last year’s James Dyson Award in the UK was won by a team that invented one device for sucking up tire particles when released.
Has decommissioning affected air quality?
The first lockdown last spring, when it was the strictest, had most notable impact on air quality. Nitrogen dioxide levels fell by 14-38% as the traffic disappeared. One consequence of this is that the chemical composition of the air became unbalanced and with industrial processes still active concentrations of ozone on the ground (no doubt even more harmful to human health) increased by up to 15%. As a result, it is important to tackle all sources of pollution together, rather than just focusing on them from vehicles.
How can we reduce air pollution from transportation?
There are some clear solutions for reducing air pollution, most of which also help tackle climate change using clean, fossil-free energy sources.
Switch to electric vehicles will reduce exhaust pipe emissions, and makes a clear and noticeable difference to local air quality. London’s Ultra Low Emission Zones have resulted in a reduction of 94% in the number of Londoners living in areas with illegal NO2 levels and added 6 months to life expectancy for babies born in the capital.
Even better is to charge these vehicles with renewable energy. There is lots of great technology on the market optimize the transmission of solar energy from your roof to your car to reduce costs and carbon.
While it is crucial to clean up our cars, of course, nothing reduces pollution and traffic congestion like active travel (walk or bike) or take public transport, where you can.
If you would like to know more about electric charging, which we install together with new photovoltaic systems, download our free guide: