Study of air quality impact of EVs shows inequalities due to income differences

Study of air quality impact of EVs shows inequalities due to income differences
The air pollution implications of electric vehicle rebates were modeled according to this schematic. Blue boxes represent data inputs and model parameters, including the current Clean Vehicle Rebate Project rebate distribution, the EMFAC (Emission Factors) model, and the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project consumer survey. Yellow boxes represent calculated values, with the calculations described correspondingly in the methods section. Italicized text summarizes the calculations performed to convert blue inputs into yellow calculated values. The model was used to evaluate emissions changes under 4 scenarios. Credit: PLOS Climate (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pclm.0000183

A trio of environmental scientists and city planners from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Miami has found that as motorists slowly make the jump from gasoline-powered vehicles (GVs) to electric-powered vehicles (EVs), people living in the same general area experience different levels of change in air quality. The researchers found air quality tends to improve in higher-income neighborhoods and remains the same or grows worse in poor neighborhoods.

In their study, reported in PLOS Climate, Jaye Mejı´a-Duwan, Miyuki Hino and Katharine Mach examined the impact of introducing EVs in California and resulting changes in air quality.

To learn more about the true impact of the switch to EVs from GVs, the researchers obtained and studied environmental data gathered as part of a government EV rebate program over the years 2010 to 2021. They found that as EV sales rose, air quality in higher-income neighborhoods tended to improve as expected, but the same could not be said for poor neighborhoods, where conditions did not change much or became worse.

The researchers found three major factors with regard to this disparity. The first was non-engine produced pollutant emissions. Vehicles traveling on highways, which tend to be closer to poor neighborhoods, produce other pollutants due to road and tire wear. Tire tread particles and brake pad particles become airborne. And in many places, speeding cars continuously whip dust, dirt and other particles near the into the air.

The second reason does not improve in poor neighborhoods is that air pollution from power plants increases as demand increases to charge all the new EVs on the road. And tend to be located closer to poor neighborhoods. The third factor is the higher cost of EVs. People in quite often cannot afford to buy them; thus, EVs are less likely to be driven there.

More information:
Jaye Mejía-Duwan et al, Emissions redistribution and environmental justice implications of California’s clean vehicle rebate project, PLOS Climate (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pclm.0000183

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Study of air quality impact of EVs shows inequalities due to income differences (2023, May 5)
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