Washington: A new study has found that driving vehicles that use electricity made from clean, renewable energy instead of gasoline can actually push down death rates due to air pollution by as much as 70 percent.
The study from the University of Minnesota also shows that switching to vehicles powered by electricity made using natural gas yields large health benefits, and conversely, vehicles running on corn ethanol or vehicles powered by coal-based or "grid average" electricity are worse for health; switching from gasoline to those fuels would increase the number of resulting deaths due to air pollution by 80 percent or more.
Co-author Chris Tessum said that these findings demonstrate the importance of clean electricity, such as from natural gas or renewables, in substantially reducing the negative health impacts of transportation.
The authors looked at liquid biofuels, diesel, compressed natural gas, and electricity from a range of conventional and renewable sources and their analysis included not only the pollution from vehicles, but also emissions generated during production of the fuels or electricity that power them.
With ethanol, for example, air pollution is released from tractors on farms, from soils after fertilizers are applied, and to supply the energy for fermenting and distilling corn into ethanol.
Researcher Jason Hill said that their work highlights the importance of looking at the full life cycle of energy production and use, not just at what comes out of tailpipes and they greatly underestimate transportation's impacts on air quality if we ignore the upstream emissions from producing fuels or electricity.
Co-author Julian Marshall said that air pollution has enormous health impacts, including increasing death rates across the U.S and this study provides valuable new information on how some transportation options would improve or worsen those health impacts.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.