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Electric vehicles have little impact on pollutant emissions finds NC State study

January 21, 2014 - A new study from North Carolina State University indicates that even a sharp increase in the use of electric drive passenger vehicles (EDVs, including hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles) by 2050 would not significantly reduce emissions of high-profile air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide or nitrogen oxides.


January 21, 2014
By Anthony Capkun

“We wanted to see how important EDVs may be over the next 40 years in terms of their ability to reduce emissions,” said Dr. Joseph DeCarolis, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the new model. “We found that increasing the use of EDVs is not an effective way to produce large emissions reductions.”

The researchers ran 108 different scenarios in an energy systems model to determine the impact of EDV use on emissions between now and 2050. They found that, even if EDVs made up 42% of passenger vehicles in the U.S., there would be little or no reduction in the emission of key air pollutants.

“There are a number of reasons for this,” DeCarolis noted. “In part, it’s because some of the benefits of EDVs are wiped out by higher emissions from power plants. Another factor is that passenger vehicles make up a relatively small share of total emissions, limiting the potential impact of EDVs in the first place. For example, passenger vehicles make up only 20% of carbon dioxide emissions.”

From a policy standpoint, explained DeCarolis, the study indicates it makes more sense to set emissions reductions goals “rather than promoting specific vehicle technologies with the idea that they’ll solve the problem on their own”.

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