In a recent Twitter thread, Neon Research’s Auke Hoekstra, who is well known for debunking misinformation regarding electric vehicles, once again came in to save the day. Hoekstra cited a study published on December 7 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that led to news headlines declaring electric vehicles worse than combustion vehicles. “That conclusion was wrong according to the report itself,” Hoekstra tweeted in his thread.
— AukeHoekstra (@AukeHoekstra) December 22, 2020
He shared a graph comparing the particulate emissions sized 2.5 micrometers and smaller (PM2.5) of a personal car and an SUV. For battery electric vehicles, they were much lower than for diesel and gasoline vehicles. This included the non-exhaust pollution such as from manufacturing, which is often a concern for the nitpickers who want to believe that EVs are the worst ever types of vehicles.
Hoekstra noted that the article’s main point was well taken: as cars get cleaner, fine particles emitted from other sources — such as brakes, tires, and even the surfaces of the road — will become more important. Hoekstra shared a table from page 92 of the report. It compared electric and combustion engines, and Hoekstra took the averages of low and high values to get that comparison graph he shared — it’s his first tweet in the thread.
I merely took the averages. To get this. pic.twitter.com/QNvMUoVWty
— AukeHoekstra (@AukeHoekstra) December 22, 2020
Hoekstra noted that it was a great thing that the report brought attention to all of the fine particles spewed into the air from cars. This problem, which makes us sick, has been ignored for way too long. He also shared the issues he had with the article, though.
The first is the electric vehicle weight. “It estimates batteries at 10 kg/kWh, when in reality it’s already below half of that. So it makes electric vehicles much too heavy and doesn’t take into account that in 2030 they will be much lighter still,” he wrote in his thread. The second is some broader context about pollution from the road vs. the exhaust of cars. “We know that the stuff that comes out of the exhaust pipe is really bad for your health. How that compares to sand and rubber from the road (gram for gram and particle for particle) is still completely unclear. They state this clearly themselves.”
He also touched upon studies about road dust and how vehicle characteristics influence particulate matter, and pointed out the latter is vaguely known. Summarizing his thoughts, Hoekstra said, “We know particles emitted from the road and the wheels of cars make us sick but that’s about it. More research is urgently needed so we can avoid millions of deaths.”
He also pointed out that there is a lot we can do, and this starts by switching to electric vehicles. “By switching to electric vehicles we are probably eliminating some of the most harmful emissions (from tailpipes and brake pads). We could try to make tires more wear-resistant (probably not a top priority of manufacturers). We can find out what materials in tires are worst and leave them out. We can construct roads in a way that traps part of the particles or we might even vacuum them up before they are released out into the open.”
As a way to tackle this problem, he shared a story from the Imperial College of London sharing that a group of students won this year’s James Dyson Award for a device they created to curb microplastic emissions from vehicle tires. The device is fitted to the wheel of the vehicle and uses electrostatics to collect particles as they are emitted from the tires. They discovered that under a controlled environment on their test rig this prototype can collect 60% of all airborne particles from tires.
Perhaps Elon Musk would consider this for the Cybertruck … which, incidentally, is the next thing Hoekstra mentioned in his thread. “Most importantly, we should use lighter cars. So a monster like this Cybertruck certainly doesn’t make your neighborhood safer or healthier.”
The bottom line, he points out, is this: “Electric cars are less bad for the climate and air quality than regular cars, but once they eliminate tailpipe and brake pad emissions we should focus on emissions from tires and roads. And that’s almost virgin territory. Time to get to work on that!” You can read Hoekstra’s full thread here.
I also want to add that those who ran with the story that EVs create more pollution — especially in the form of particulate matter — than ICE cars really need to understand that if they want to properly address the actual cause of pollution, they need to get their fact straight about EVs.
It’s hard, especially when there’s a lot of false and misleading information being pushed out, whether by Toyota’s president or fake PR firms. If you do a Google search on EVs and pollution, you find questions being raised about whether or EVs are really good for the climate. If you really wonder this, ask yourself the following question: What does the air smell like when a diesel or gas car is right in front of you? Compare that with an EV and you have your answer.
Sometimes, using a little common sense can clear up the FUD.
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