Belgium, (Brussels Morning) A new study maintains that electric vehicles (EV) are the best choice to replace diesel-fuelled road vehicles and tackle public health problems worldwide, namely air pollution.
Conducted by independent researchers from CE Delft and commissioned by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the new work is a follow-up from a 2018 study, which now states that the uptake of EV would reduce air pollution and save EU countries over 9 billion euro every year in health costs from driving emissions alone.
The study analyses what the impact on emission levels would be if fuels and energy carriers such as electricity, CNG (compressed natural gas), LNG (liquid natural gas), LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), biofuels, and drivetrains such as plug-in hybrids and flex-fuel vehicles (which can run on high blends of fossil fuel substitutes) would replace diesel vehicles or diesel use.
Moreover, plug-in hybrid and natural gas also have substantial potential to reduce air pollution-related to social costs, the study identified, however, concerns remain over ultrafine particles from natural gas.
The study points to current policies that will reduce external costs from air pollution substantially — almost 80% — between now and 2030, adding that alternative fuels and drive trains can add to that.
In addition to external costs from nitrogen oxide (NOx) and PM the study also assesses other external costs such as carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, noise, road safety, and congestion. CE Delft researchers concluded that including additional external impacts in the external cost calculations reveals a larger potential to reduce these costs when replacing diesel with alternative fuels and drivetrains.
“The total level of external costs in 2016 increased from 64 billion to 721 billion euros when additional external impacts such as well-to-tank emissions, CO 2 emissions, congestion, noise, and traffic safety are also considered,” stated EPHA.
Still, the hype with EV takes into account a major challenge — batteries. While the impact for the climate and the environment seems to be unchallenged, customers betting on EVs are increasingly aware of the costs that such sustainable transition entail with batteries costing 10,000 euros to 30,000 euros, or even more, depending on the vehicle.
Aware of this challenge, the automotive industry is in a rush trying to develop cost-efficient batteries for EVs. Western startups like Cambridge-based Nyobolt and Echion Technologies or Woodinville, Washington-based Group14 Technologies are working on electrode materials to bring super fast-charging batteries to market, Reuters reported.
According to startup data platform PitchBook, EV battery technology investments jumped more than sixfold to $9.4 billion in 2021 from $1.5 billion in 2020 as the automotive industry focused on the future.
From a health perspective, when it comes to the type of fuel used, EPHA said that both hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and ethanol (E85) have limited benefits in terms of replacing diesel.
“For HVO this is because it can be used in the current vehicle fleet and the exhaust emissions remain practically the same whether regular diesel or HVO is used,” explained EPHA in a press statement.
“Provided HVO is produced from truly renewable sources, it has substantial benefits in terms of reducing well-to-wheel emissions. In the more distant future when electricity production is expected to shift to higher shares of renewable production, the relative advantage of HVO will decrease,” added EPHA.
In Europe, air pollution is still a major cause of premature death and disease and road transport is one of the main sources contributing to it. According to the European Environment Agency, in 2019, around 307,000 premature deaths were attributable to PM2.5 in the 27 EU countries. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was linked to 40,400 premature deaths, and ground-level ozone (O3) was linked to 16,800 premature deaths