Electric car, fine particles and air pollution: what are the results?

Do electric cars emit fewer fine particles and less air pollution than thermal cars? Let’s take stock.

When it comes to electric vehicles, many questions stir the public debate. Does an electric car emit less CO2 than a diesel or gasoline car? What are the environmental impacts of electric car batteries? Aren’t electric vehicles likely to blow up electricity consumption?

Naturally, some have even wondered to what extent the electric car contributes or does not contribute to air pollution and fine particulate emissions. A recent ADEME report sheds light on this issue. So, is the electric car emitting less fine particles than a thermal car? To what extent does it help reduce air pollution and fine particulate emissions?

Electric vehicle: less fine particles, but not zero

By using a battery and an electric motor instead of a heat engine, the electric car has the advantage of avoiding a certain amount of pollution. We know that CO2 emissions, for example, are significantly reduced with the electric car compared to the thermal car. Thus, no greenhouse gases are emitted during the use phase. To be precise and accurate, it should be noted that CO2 is still emitted for the construction of the vehicle and its battery and the production of electricity, but overall, if we take all this into account, the greenhouse effect of emissions of electric vehicle gases. they are divided by 2 or 3 in France compared to their thermal equivalent.

For fine particles, the electric car also has a clear advantage. First, the emissions of fine particles linked to the combustion of fossil fuels in the engine are obviously reduced to zero in the case of an electric vehicle. However, we cannot say that the electric car is “zero pollution”. In fact, the car, whether thermal or electric, causes pollution with fine particles due to the wear of the brake pads, the abrasion of the tires and the road. This pollution accounts for just over half of the fine particles emitted by a thermal vehicle.

As for the electric car, these pollutants are reduced slightly, but not much. The regenerative braking system helps limit brake pad wear and associated emissions, but because electric cars are heavier and have wider tires, tire-related emissions and abrasion increase slightly compared to thermal cars. If we take stock, the electric car is a little better than the thermal vehicle in this area: just between 10 and 20% less particles.

Less secondary fine particles

The other advantage of the electric car in terms of air pollution over the thermal car is that they prevent the emission of a certain number of compounds that indirectly causes the formation of fine particles. This is how ADEME recalls it in its report, when it was drafted “Thermal vehicles emit nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that can contribute to the formation of secondary particles, which is not the case with electric vehicles.”.

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Secondary particles are formed when gases present in the atmosphere solidify under certain atmospheric conditions, for example in contact with raindrops. This phenomenon is called nucleation. The main gases that can be transformed into fine particles are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia, which are emitted precisely by the combustion of fossil fuels in heat engines.

Electric car, less polluting gases (NOx, CO …)

Finally, in addition to fine particles, the transition to the electric car also makes it possible to limit the emissions of different polluting gases. In fact, in addition to CO2 and fine particles, the burning of fossil fuels in thermal vehicles also causes emissions of various gases that are harmful to health and the environment. Among them, we find mainly carbon monoxide (CO), but also nitrogen oxides (NOx) which are toxic as well as being precursors of secondary particles.

Obviously, the electric vehicle does not emit these gases during use. Therefore, it avoids the emission of these harmful pollutants into traffic areas. And this is especially important in urban areas where the concentration of these gases can increase rapidly when the density of vehicles circulating is high, and where populations are concentrated.

All in all, the electric car does not prevent all pollutant emissions and fine particles, but it does reduce them significantly. Even if the emissions of particles related to the wear and tear of the brakes and tires and the abrasion of the road are only slightly reduced by the electric car, the others, in particular, all the particles and polluting and toxic gases related to the combustion of fossil fuels. The result, then, is clear: the electric vehicle can significantly reduce air pollution.

Photo by Ivan Bogdanov on Unsplash

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