In the Market for an Electric Business Vehicle?

When it comes to the environmental health impact, all electric vehicle “fuels” are not created equal


Editor: Energy industry veteran weighs on the respective “fuels” of electric cars and related health footprints.    

Ever since Toyota began producing its gasoline-electric hybrid Prius automobile in Japan during the mid-1990s, the debate has raged on as to which type of engine is cleaner, that is, contributes the least amount of deaths from vehicle emissions.

Is it the traditional internal combustion engine powered by gasoline, a gasoline-electric hybrid, diesel, or an electric vehicle whose energy comes from coal? 

The results may surprise you according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This new report comprising 3 researchers from the University of Minnesota, analyzed the complete life-cycle of automobile emissions – all the way from mining the materials for the batteries, via the ones from the production of the fuel and the generation of electricity to charge the batteries, to the emissions from the tailpipe – presents a different perspective. Messrs Christopher Tessum, Jason Hill, and Julian Marshall of the University of Minnesota set out to uncover which of 11 methods of powering a car were the cleanest.

The vehicles and their mode of power were the following:

  • Electric Vehicle (EV) Coal
  • EV Average
  • Ethanol C (from corn)
  • EV S (recharged by maize stalks and husks)
  • Ethanol S ( cellulosic ethanol)
  • Gasoline
  • CNG (compressed natural gas)
  • Diesel
  • HEV (non plug-in gasoline hybrid)
  • EV Natural gas
  • EV Renewable

It is perhaps no surprise that electric vehicles whose batteries were charged from wind, solar, and hydro-electric power were the cleanest of the 11, roughly causing 231 deaths over the course of a year.

By contrast, electric vehicle motors charged by coal caused the most deaths, just over 3,000 according to the study.

This is perhaps not new to many industry followers. However, what may be new is the fact that the traditional gasoline powered engine is cleaner than many supposed alternative fuels including ethanol and we as Americans are financially subsidizing these alternative fuels to the tune of close to $2 billion over the course of the last four years: 2010 to 2013.

What’s more these alternatives, as measured in the University of Minnesota study, are no cleaner than the traditional fuel (gasoline) they are seeking to replace.

Next page: Subsidized fuels and health effects


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