Exhaust pipe, Nox, Air pollution, Particulates, Air quality, asthma, exhaust emissions

Electric Vehicles, Air Pollution and Health

The switch to electric vehicles has other beneficial effects above and beyond reducing carbon dioxide emissions from personal transport.  Conventional internal combustion engine vehicles also produce pollution, notable nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, that have seriously detrimental effects on local air quality.  Poor air quality can affect people’s health, especially irritation of the respiratory system and lungs and some forms of cancer.  Improving local air quality is therefore a major issue for many local councils, and encouraging the switch to EVs is a key means for addressing this.  Below we look in more detail at these tailpipe pollution issues.

What are NOx emissions?

When fossil fuels are burned in an internal combustion engine, some of the nitrogen in the air is oxidised to form oxides of nitrogen.  This is a mixture of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), but the exact proportion of this mixture varies.  The mixture is conventionally referred to as NOx emissions (where x denotes a number somewhere between 1 and 2).

Why are NOx emissions harmful?

Both nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are hazardous to human health.  As gases, they can be easily breathed into the lungs.  NOx pollution can cause or exacerbate asthma, decrease lung function, increase the risk of respiratory conditions (such as flu and pneumonia), and increase response to other allergens.  The UK’s Clean Air Strategy states “Air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK, and the fourth greatest threat to public health after cancer, heart disease and obesity.”  In the UK alone, air pollution is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths annually.

The NOx emissions can also undergo chemical reactions in the lower atmosphere which form nitric acid and ozone.  You may know this from the acrid smell that comes from photocopiers – this is ozone.  Both nitric acid and ozone are known to damage lung tissue.

Nitrogen dioxide, NO2, is a pungent, brown gas – you may remember this from chemistry lessons at school, but always made in a fume hood.  Nitrogen dioxide is important in the formation of smog and is responsible for the visible brown haze produced.

How do EVs reduce NOx emissions?

With no internal combustion engine, electric vehicles produce no NOx emissions.  They therefore save the NOx emissions that would have been produced from an ICE vehicle.

Diesel engines produce particularly large volumes of NOx emissions, 0.96 g per mile.  Petrol engines are less harmful, producing 0.48g per mile.  This may not seem a lot, but with the average driver clocking up 10,000 miles per annum, a diesel car will emit 10kg of NOx every year.

An alternative way of seeing this would be that a typical urban A-road carrying 20,000 vehicles per day would be producing 3.5 kg of NOx emissions along every metre of road every year.

Clearly switching to an electric vehicle is a sensible means of reducing this pollution and associated health consequences.  The Government’s Clean Air Strategy estimates that the costs of air pollution to society could be reduced by £1.7 billion every year.

What are particulates?

Particulates are very small solid particles that are suspended in the air.  They are formed from the combustion of fossil fuels in ICE vehicles, with other particulates coming from road dust, and released from brake pads.

Particulates are classified by the size of the particles.  Particles that are 10 micrometres (that’s 10/1000 of a millimetre) are called PM10s.  Even smaller particles of 2.5 micrometres are called PM2.5s.  For context, a human hair (and solar cells, incidentally) are about 100 micrometres.

Particulates accumulate on buildings and other surfaces, which has a visual impact by making the environment look dirty.  It can be a considerable expense to clean buildings to remove accumulated soot and other particulate matter.

Why are particulates harmful?

Because particulates are so small, they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and even enter the bloodstream.  The World Health Organisation recognises particulates as a carcinogen (that is to say, it causes cancer).  They can also cause respiratory issues and heart attacks.

How do EVs reduce particulates?

Diesel vehicles produce the most particulates pollution at 0.064 g/mile.  Petrol vehicles produce approximately 20 times less particulate pollution at 0.003 g/mile.

A typical diesel car will therefore emit 640 grams of particulate matter every year.  Alternatively, a major A-road carrying 20,000 vehicles per day will release 230 grams of particulates every year, along every meter of the road.

It is important to note that particulate emissions from EVs are not zero, as small amounts of particulates are released from brake pads.  This has been picked up by some elements of the media (we won’t publicise them with a hyperlink) as a means of criticizing the switch to electric vehicles.  However – and this is so simple, it barely needs saying – particulate emissions from EV brake pads will be many times less than particulate emissions from a vehicle with both brake pads and an internal combustion engine!

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electric car, EV, EVs, Norway, rapid charger, fast charger, growth

The Amazing Story of EVs in Norway

Why are there so many EVs in Norway?  Our resident Norwegian, Bea Cecilie Karlsen explains all.

Norway is the global leader when it comes to electric vehicles. In 2018 the nation’s electric car market share was at 46 percent of their new vehicle sales, while the second largest market share was at 17 percent in 2018 according to IEA (International Energy Agency). Clearly the Norwegian Government’s hard effort is paying off.   So how have they done it?

Promoting EVs in Norway

The Norwegian government decided early on to motivate people by creating incentives for electric vehicle owners such as exemption to paying road tolls, being allowed to drive in bus and taxi lanes, free ferry passes and reduced sales taxes and VAT. The aim was to even out the cost between ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and EVs.  This was done by reducing taxes for EVs and increasing taxes for ICE vehicles; by doing so the increased taxes for ICE vehicles paid for the EV incentives.

Morten, Harket, Aha, electric car, EV, Bellona, 1980s

The sun always shines on EV.  Morten Harket promotes electric cars in the 1980s.  (Image: Bellona)

Norway started its transition to EVs way back in the 1980s. To drive the incentives, the lead singer from the band Aha, Morten Harket, helped the NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) Bellona to kick-start the no road toll and reduced taxes incentives in the 80s by driving around in an electric car and not paying road tolls for one year. The issue received a huge amount of media attention due to Morten Harket’s involvement.

In the 90s the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association was founded, with an aim to promote electric vehicles among Norwegian citizens. This non-profit organisation has gained more than 75,000 members over the years. The association has calculated that currently the ratio between EVs and public fast charging points are 120 to 1, which makes Norway one of the first countries to tackle the necessary charging infrastructure issue first.  There are now about 200,000 BEVs (battery electric vehicles) and almost 100,000 PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) in the nation. Due to the rapid changes within the car market, the association has received visits from petrol station chains, oil companies and car-manufacturers that wish to gain a better understanding of the shifting car market.

The EV movement has lasted for about 30 years, during which the incentives have slowly changed once car manufacturers produced cheaper EVs and improved their technology. Growing from no EVs to about 300,000 EVs in only 30 years is impressive, but it does not illustrate how slow and gradual the EV movement in Norway was initially. In 2014 there were less than 50,000 EVs in the country. However, with a wider range of EVs now on the market, the number of EVs has gone up 6-fold in just 5 years.

EVs, Norway, market growth, 2018

EVs in Norway have experienced massive growth in the last 3 years

An ideal environment

Due to the nation’s ideal environment for hydro power, their goal does not seem out of reach. Norway has huge amounts of hydro producing very cheap electricity. The average electricity price for households in Norway is 42,5 NOK øre or 3.6p/kWh (the average UK price is about 15p/kWh).  With EVs being three times cheaper to run in the UK than ICE vehicles, in Norway this ratio is 12.5 times cheaper.  Getting an EV in Norway is clearly a no-brainer.

Taking it one step further

EVs are not only popular amongst individuals but amongst companies too, as ferries, buses and taxis are increasingly going electric, which continues to further motivate a larger national EV movement. Domestic planes are due to become electric too by 2040 according to the airport company Avinor. As a result of all these new changes, there is no surprise that Norway is ultimately aiming at becoming the first 100 percent electrified country, within all sectors.

The nation’s major changes will hopefully inspire more nations to follow the race to electrify sectors and potentially the whole nation. The race is on for the first country to become 100 percent electrified, if another nation is up to the task!

What can the UK learn from EVs in Norway?

Clearly, Norway benefits from having large amounts of cheap 100% renewable electricity.  However, UK renewables are rapidly growing, especially offshore wind farms.  New renewables are currently the cheapest forms of new generation, so it is possible the UK could at least partially replicate the conducive Norwegian market.

In Norway, the government was responsible for providing funding for installing EVCPs and later the private sector joined in installing EVCPs. From 2015 the state enterprise Enova created a new support scheme that aims to place rapid charging stations along the Norwegian main roads roughly every 50 km, in which each charging station must have two chargers minimum to reduce queues and maintenance issues. Norway has reached the tipping point where governmental support will no longer be required in the near future, and private operators have begun building fast and rapid charging stations without public funding. In the UK, we do not have an overarching body like Enova to set strategy, and it has been left to the private sector to install rapid chargers, and public authorities to install a sufficient volume of fast chargers in their area.  The UK’s more market-based approach has led to some areas being undersupplied with EVCPs.

Statistics support the statement that Norwegian EV buyers are not buying EVs based on charge points availability, thus range anxiety seems to be less of an issue in the nation. This is supported by a survey by the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, that found that most EV owners in Norway charge at home. The Norwegian case also supports the fact that incentives for buying EVs are helpful for high sales of EVs.

Final Thoughts

Based on the case of Norwegian EVs adoption, the UK is part way to replicating this model.  We will not be able to generate renewable power at the same price as Norwegian hydro, but more low-cost renewables are being added to the UK network. We would benefit from some more strategic direction as to charge point location, rather than relying on a pure market-based model. However, if we can deliver a sufficient number of publicly accessible rapid and fast chargers, the range anxiety issue can be solved, which will lead to a dramatic increase in EVs.

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