According to a report released by the university, EVs in China are more environmentally harmful than gas-powered vehicles when factoring in how electricity is produced. The study claims that, when calculating "well-to-wheel" emissions, EVs can be just as harmful as – wait for it – diesel buses. The study, which calculated five types of vehicles and their effect on air quality in 34 Chinese cities, factored in all particulate matter produced in the electricity production process, including dust particles, metals, organic chemicals and acids. Because more than three-quarters of the electricity produced in China is from coal, EVs that depend on such electricity are more harmful than gas-powered cars, according to the report.
"An implicit assumption has been that air quality and health impacts are lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles," said Chris Cherry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee, in a prepared statement. "Our findings challenge that by comparing what is emitted by vehicle use to what people are actually exposed to. Prior studies have only examined environmental impacts by comparing emission factors or greenhouse gas emissions."
The report is sure to further stoke the argument over whether EVs are more harmful than conventional vehicles when factoring in energy production, especially given that, according to Pike Research, China consumers will be buying twice as many plug-in vehicles as Americans by 2017. Most other studies find that EVs beat gas-powered cars by a long shot. Take, for instance, a 2009 study conducted by Dvice, which estimated that, even when assuming that all of the electricity used by an EV is sourced from coal, EVs would still produce 60 percent fewer pollutants than gas-powered vehicles. And this week, Green Car Reports quoted a U.S.-based Nissan Leaf owner who calculated that, even if all of his Leaf's electricity came from coal-fired plants, it would still produce 15 percent fewer pollutants than a gas-powered Nissan Versa.