National Academy of Sciences: "Electric cars pollute more than gas cars and cause 86% deaths from smog"

National Academy of Sciences: "Electric cars pollute more than gas cars and cause 86% deaths from smog"

Nanana26 | 2 januari 2015

"People who own all-electric cars in places where coal generates the power are actually making the air dirtier, according to a new study. The key is the electricity's source. If it comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity, according to the study published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They also are significantly worse at heat-trapping carbon dioxide that worsens global warming, it found. "

jordanrichard | 2 januari 2015

Who is that guy? He failed to mention that most cars today has a lot of aluminum in them and increasingly so. Hell, ALOT of the new F-150 is aluminum. The Jaguar XJ is all aluminum as is the Audi A8, so on and so forth.

I would be interested in finding out who funds the "National Academy of Sciences" A lot of people think the IIHS is a government body, when in fact it's an arm of the insurance industry. Their whole goal is to get people into whatever car will greatly reduce the chances that the insurance companies will have to pay out a medical claim on.

Nanana26 | 2 januari 2015

The National Academy of Sciences is government funded, their studies are based on government requests, it has around 2000 scientists, American and International, of which 200 nobel price winners.

jordanrichard | 2 januari 2015

Ya, I just Googled it and see that it is a non-profit, but I didn't see where it is funded solely or partly by the government.

I would really like to know how they can calculate how much soot is created by 1 car charging. Why not throw in the stats of much more likely you are to die in a car fire in an ICE versus a Tesla? Also, even if their numbers are true, that only applies to states that get their electricity from coal. Nationally according to the DOE, only 39% of our country's electricity is generated from coal.

I would like them to produce a side by side comparison between an ICE and an EV. A "cradle to grave" comparison.

Nanana26 | 2 januari 2015

they have a site with the info

Who do the National Academies work for; where does funding come from?

Most of the studies are carried out at the request of government agencies or Congress, some are initiated internally; and a few are proposed by other external sources. About 85 percent of funding comes from the federal government through contracts and grants from agencies and 15 percent from state governments, private foundations, industrial organizations, and funds provided by the Academies member organizations. All funds, regardless of their source, are accepted by the academies with very stringent conditions to ensure that the acceptance of any funds does not influence the objectivity, scope, method of study, or membership of a study group.

jordanrichard | 2 januari 2015

Ok. That still doesn't address the issue about the one sided information/facts that guy was spouting off in that 30 second "in depth" review of why EVs are not as clean as one may think and in one area, supposedly more dangerous than a gas car.

Also, the presumption is that everyone that buys an EV is an environmentalist and only bought or the primary reason they bought an EV was the "green cred" of the car.

EQC | 2 januari 2015

If, in certain circumstances, EV's are "dirtier" than gas cars, think about this:

As far as I know, there's virtually no way to produce hydrogen without effectively consuming a lot more energy in the process than is available in the hydrogen you get. Additionally, once you put that hydrogen in a car, there are still more efficiency losses compared to running an EV off battery power.

In other words: whatever pollution problems somebody claims against an EV, the problem is actually magnified significantly for hydrogen.

Of course, in many real-world circumstances, EV's can already be shown to be cleaner than gasoline. And, there is no real question about gasoline/petroleum being an ever worsening resource: every year, the petroleum we pull out of the ground is a little more difficult to get at; pulling it out of the ground and refining it gets more energy intensive and less efficient as time goes on. On the other hand, the electrical grid gets cleaner every year.

blue adept | 2 januari 2015

Well, obviously the solution is to get rid of the coal-fired electricity generation facilities...Problem solved!

Wilber | 2 januari 2015

This is and old issue, and just one more example of how the mainstream media quotes a scientific article out of context in order to:

1. Create controversy, and
2. support their funders (big oil, big auto, etc.)

The National Academy of Sciences is a reputable organization, and their Proceedings are respected in the scientific community. So, the problem is not with the article. It is solely with the biased/distorted media reporting.

If you bothered to go to the actual article you would see that the authors are focusing only on air quality human health impacts of 1. particulate matter and 2. ozone. They are not considering greenhouse gases that cause global warming (CO2 , methane, etc) except in a couple cursory references. And they are not considering other volatile organic compounds spewed by gasoline powered cars.

The EVs that they dont like are those that get nearly all their power from coal. This is a handful of states. For EVs in most states that get power from a mix of sources, they find to be cleaner than gasoline.
Here is a link to the article and the abstract:

Nat Acad of Sci Article on EVs and power sources:

Commonly considered strategies for reducing the environmental impact of light-duty transportation include using alternative fuels and improving vehicle fuel economy. We evaluate the air quality-related human health impacts of 10 such options, including the use of liquid biofuels, diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG) in internal combustion engines; the use of electricity from a range of conventional and renewable sources to power electric vehicles (EVs); and the use of hybrid EV technology. Our approach combines spatially, temporally, and chemically detailed life cycle emission inventories; comprehensive, fine-scale state-of-the-science chemical transport modeling; and exposure, concentration–response, and economic health impact modeling for ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline. Conversely, EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water, or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50% or more. Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.

gipfeli | 2 januari 2015

An information i am still looking for is the following:
"what is the environment impact of producing 1 liter / 1 galon of diesel / oil and providing it to the final user (i.e. driver taking it at the petrol station) ?
Indeed for the electrical vehicle,as there is no exhaust on the car, people used to look at the electricity production aspect, but the production of oil has also a environmental impact (also the delivery of the refined oil to the final user).
I would expect to find this information from an NGO because the oil lobby is very strong.
But so far I failed.
If anyone would know where to collect such information, this would be great.
We would be then able to get a far comparison between EV and non EV, looking from energy production, delivery to final user and impact of the vehicle itself.

lph | 2 januari 2015

Could not find any reference to the fact that power stations are on at night anyway whether cars a recharging or not. This is because they have to have capacity for peak times of the day which is not at night. In reality there is not much increase in fuel used In any power station let alone coal to charge cars. New power stations coming on line are now more and more using renewables. The accademy of sciences need to take these into account. Because of this, it appears to me, the report presents a bogus argument from the outset.
It is amazing how a set of data can be skewed by leaving out one fact.

THRΞΞ | 3 januari 2015

The article doesn't take the future vision into account that someday millions of us will be getting our electricity from the sun, which is non-polluting.

You can't blame electric cars for the pollution because they are not the source.

Tstolz | 3 januari 2015

I'm in a province that generates most of its electricity from coal (Alberta). Fortunately, we also have a rapidly growing wind industry which, for $30/month extra, I can buy into and receive 100% of my electricity from the wind. For EV drivers concerned about burning coal, I'd suggest looking into this or other green options to see if something similar is in your area ... come to think of it ... buying renewable energy credits wouldn't even need to be in your area for the planet to benefit. Run with the wind ... problem solved!

SamO | 3 januari 2015

"Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles."

Guess the reporters missed the money quote.

Earl and Nagin ... | 3 januari 2015

Old story replayed yet again.
It conveniently misses the fact that Ozone and particulate pollution from a coal plant can easily be essentially eliminated by good combustion control (ozone control) and filtering (particulate control). Smokestack filtering can actually be retrofitted even onto old coal plants. Burner control may be a bit more difficult to economically retrofit to an old plant.
The only thing that is hard to eliminate from coal plants is the CO2 emission. Most studies I've seen show that CO2 emissions from a coal-plant-powered EV are about the same as a similar ICE vehicle. some studies slightly favor the EV, others slightly favor the ICE. I really don't care since the overall grid isn't all coal fed and the growth direction is definitely not, making EVs the hands-down best solution to work on today for the future.
Pure FUD

Svenssons | 3 januari 2015

Is the gas for the ICE-cars pumped directly from the ground under the petrol station or is it delivered by trucks from a cracking facility? Does the cracking facility get its electricity from pure solar power or maybe from the same sources as the EV-cars?

vgarbutt | 3 januari 2015

It still takes massive quantities of electricity to refine oil, and these facilities are pretty much fed by dedicated coal fired generation plants. Skipping gas production and going straight into an ev is still better than ICE, in terms of coal burning and pollution. Not to mention storage and distribution and efficiency losses upon burning.

alanwwebb | 3 januari 2015

Tesla says producing electricity with 40% coal, similar to the national average of 39% results in 13.91 pounds of CO2 per 40 miles, while a gasoline car produces 45.56.

In West Virginia, 96% coal, it's 25.74 lbs. still little more than half an ICE car.

alanwwebb | 3 januari 2015

This article says 6kWh to refine one gallon.

Given about 4 miles per kWh at 55 mph x6 = 24 miles.

Does not count drilling for and transporting the oil, transporting the gasoline or tailpipe emissions.

Larry@SoCal | 3 januari 2015

Even with the dubious calculations in the article, non-fossil sources - wind, PV and on - continue to improve while gasoline is maxed out, no where to go. The future is EV.

headgoneinc | 3 januari 2015

I understand why they came to that conclusion, because you have to plug it in to charge it and all those charging stations also need energy so its still contributing to the problem in some way.

jordanrichard | 3 januari 2015

Interestingly, the OP has disappeared from the discussion.....

Brian H | 4 januari 2015

Fruity continues to post inanities elsewhere on the site.

FREE ENERGY | 4 januari 2015

Here, we have 100% hydro electric access :-) 365...

MX Pete@QC.Canada | 4 januari 2015

It looks to me that media and journalistic ethics are pretty pliable, I regret to say. Sensationalism, part truths and play on people naivety seems the norm on many subjects. Pretty shameful.

Grinnin'.VA | 4 januari 2015

@ MX Pete@QC.Canada | January 4, 2015

Sensationalism, part truths and play on people naivety seems the norm on many subjects. Pretty shameful.


Go Tesla!

grega | 4 januari 2015

Damn I wrote a reply to this after reading into the report in more detail - on a different site … but where did I write it?

@ gipfeli said:' An information i am still looking for is the following:
"what is the environment impact of producing 1 liter / 1 galon of diesel / oil and providing it to the final user (i.e. driver taking it at the petrol station) ?'

Yes, I couldn’t see that in my search of this report.
Estimates are that to REFINE 1 gallon of gasoline requires 5kWh (maybe a little worse at 6kWh). In my 5yo Subaru that means the electricity used to refine my fuel to drive 100 miles is similar to the electricity used by a Model S to drive 100 miles… and the electricity MUST come from the same place … so 100% coal, or 50% coal, or whatever - same emissions just for that. Then my car MUST be more environmentally unfriendly because it also then burns that gasoline (plus there is the drilling and transporting).

But to this report, it’s important to note that the pollution from regular ICEs is based on an assumed much better ICE efficiency in 2020, whereas the coal emissions are based on todays emissions. Even then, a brilliant new high MPG car in 2020 will be 3 times as efficient as mine - meaning it still uses 1/3 the electricity of an EV… and thus (to be kind) the refining-electricity must add a baseline on ICE-hybrids of 1/3 the emissions of what an EV produces - yet the graphs of this report show it produces 1/4 the emissions total (before burning etc). So they must be leaving this out, or providing clean power for the refining of gasoline and dirty for charging an EV.

It does say it’s well-to-wheels… but doesn’t ring correctly.

@iph you said "Could not find any reference to the fact that power stations are on at night anyway whether cars a recharging or not.”

Yes I think this is ignored. Very important though.

@Tstolz said "Fortunately, we also have a rapidly growing wind industry which, for $30/month extra, I can buy into and receive 100% of my electricity from the wind.”

I would like to see this pushed a bit, but it won’t happen. In Australia I can pay 5c/kWh extra to be 100% ‘clean’ electricity. Perhaps there needs to be some incentives for “100% clean”.

The other thing I noticed was that the report ignores the production emissions of ICEVs, arguing that all ICEVs are similar, but does a special section on EV production. To the average reader this implies "0" for ICEVs while EVs have extra, though it doesn't actually say that.

TransportEvolved interviewed one of the researchers last week and he was talking about the headlines not being what the report was saying (like the simple fact that the focus was not on 100% coal power because that's an artificial situation). Unfortunately I didn’t get far into it, and it’s dropped off my podcast feed so I need to find it again.

Svenssons | 4 januari 2015

If you are going to compare the energy fuel for EV and ICE you must compare the same thing. You can not compare the production of electricity with the consumption of petrol in the car.

Either you compare consumption of electricity in the EV with the consumption of petrol in the ICE-car or you compare the production of electricity with the production of petrol.

If you try to compare the total cost of both production and consumption you also need to add the transportation cost of both electricity and petrol.

Brian H | 5 januari 2015

Yeah, another thread here pulled the same shell game: comparing the TCO of a Tesla with just the fuel costs of a Vette.

pmorin | 5 januari 2015

From my perspective, based on how skewed the assumptions were, the intend of the paper's authors was primarily to demonstrate that coal generated electricity is the most "costly" source of energy for motive power. Making the point that even if 10% of transportation were shifted to EVs, if coal was the source of power, it would be more "costly" than just continuing with a gasoline/ice based model.

As for the article's headline, the author's goal was to twist the intent of the paper as to provide fodder for the anti-EV crowd and have guys like me get worked-up.

All in all, this thread got me annoyed and I ended up wasting my time reading and posting. Shame on me...

grega | 5 januari 2015

A few more facts (issues) with the report, after listening to Chris speak on the podcast.

1) The diesel cars do so well because it is assumed they have all the filters that will prevent the bad emissions they're currently known for
2) The well to wheel assumes 45% of gasoline comes from US sources, the other is international. The emissions from the "well-to-USA" (international drilling and transport) is not included at all, as it "doesn't affect the US".

I think #1 is important because the headlines and graph don't make it clear that if today's AVERAGE car was put on the list, it'd be way worse than the 100% coal EVs. #2 is rather obviously a problem.
Listen from 39:30 mark (until then they have connection issues).

I've only listened to a short amount so far, will post some more points later.

grega | 5 januari 2015

Okay so have read a lot more and finished listening. The key to this study is in it's scope. It SOUNDS like it's a broad condemnation but it's not.

It's studying pollutants that kill people, not green house gases. The vast majority of this is from "particulate matter" - not gases, but tiny solids.

So... by this standard, ICEs are quite clean. Your car doesn't spew much tiny particulate matter out, it mainly spews greenhouse gases and so forth. After all, the fuel is already refined, and the more efficient a car is the better it fully converts the refined fuel.

The small particles then come from a few sources
a) mining coal (lots)
b) drilling oil (not much)
c) burning coal (lots)
d) refining oil (not much)?*
e) producing corn based ethanol (reasonable)
e) burning refined oil (some)

It also explains why they don't care at all about emissions that are overseas - those particles really don't kill people in the US.

So you can see, when it comes to people dying, EVs are terrible if they charge from coal.

Of course, if you want to talk about global warming, that's different. But if you don't believe in global warming then this study is HUGE.

*Note: refining oil numbers don't add up to me. They seem to be looking at the pollution made by refining, ignoring the pollution from the electricity used for the same refining. Even factored in it's still lower than an EV charged on coal. (3000 vs 2200 instead of 3000 vs 700)

Boukman | 5 januari 2015


Svenssons | 5 januari 2015

Petrol also need to be transported to the gas station, usually done with diesel trucks adding aerosols to the air within US. Electricity is transported without any aerosols added.

If they compare 100% coal produced electricity with the cleanest car with aerosol filter they are doing cherry picking. Far from 100% of the electricity in US are not produced from coal and far from 100% of the diesel cars in US are the most modern with particle filter. Add that they seem to compare fuel consumption for one energy source with fuel production of another and the report seems to have one purpose and its not a scientific one but a political.

aljjr2 | 6 januari 2015

The premise defies logic. EV's make up less 1/10 of 1 percent of vehicle on the road, and use less than that of the total power on the Grid. To conclude EV's cause 85% of the deaths due to pollution is beyond absurd.

grega | 6 januari 2015

The calculations are basically "what ifs" - based on the various car types being 10% by 2020 (of new cars?).

They use a theoretical gasoline car in 2020 as a baseline, and the number of people it's pollution would kill.

Grinnin'.VA | 6 januari 2015

@ aljjr2 | January 6, 2015

... To conclude EV's cause 85% of the deaths due to pollution is beyond absurd.

Right. But who cares about that?
IMO, OP is just stirring up the pot, not trying to educate people.

Go Tesla!

Brian H | 6 januari 2015

It is stupid to demonize coal in the first place; aerosol filters need to be used, and that's it. EVs (Tesla's especially) are good when they're well designed and made because they can be pleasant to use and be around and are very efficient.

I despise articles and posts like the OP's. Dumb is dumb.

astrothad | 6 januari 2015


The tag line is misleading and this horse (or horseless carriage, as the case may be) has been flogged beyond recognition elsewhere on the forums.

ElectricSteve | 9 januari 2015

Pfew i can gloat from glee because my Tesla gets it's juice from 100% hydro. Shame on you poluting bastardos !


Remnant | 12 januari 2015

@ ElectricSteve (January 9, 2015)

<< Pfew I can gloat from glee because my Tesla gets [its] juice from 100% hydro. >>

However, some studies have shown that dams contribute to climate change because of the large amounts of methane released from all of the dead plant life in the valleys inundated by the dams.

pattymac | 12 januari 2015

Agree with @lph about the study omitting the fact that coal plants are always producing to meet a base load demand (base load power plant).
I live in Georgia where about 35% of the power comes from coal. Almost all of the power produced overnight comes from coal or nuclear. This power would be produced regardless of my charging habits.
If by chance, a large number of people started charging at the same time as me, peak load power would kick in as needed to make up any difference. This power typically comes from "cleaner" sources, like hydro or natural gas.
I'm not a Nobel prize winner or even a scientist, but if I figured this out... well, I really have to question the whole study.

Brian H | 13 januari 2015

Actually, hydro etc. supply base load. Peak load plants tend to be NG, which can fire up and down faster.