Electric cars lead way to cleaner air

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Climate change is a topic of much debate in the United States as people are questioning if electric vehicles (EVs) are more environmentally friendly than gas-powered cars and if they are worth the price tags.

Dr. Bonjun Koo, professor of environmental science, said direct emissions and lifecycle emissions should be considered when determining a car’s environmental affects.

“Direct emissions include smog-forming pollutants (such as nitrogen oxides), other pollutants harmful to human health and greenhouse gases (GHGs), primarily carbon dioxide,” Koo said.

“All-electric vehicles produce zero direct emissions, which specifically helps improve air quality in urban areas.”

Building an electric car contributes more life cycle greenhouse gases than when making a gas-powered car because of  the unique construction of EV batteries.

EV batteries can weigh as much as half a ton and are made of rare-earth metals, such as nickel and lithium. Taking these metals out of the ground is a hazardous process and can leave soil ruined and clean rivers poisoned.

However, EVs do not emit nearly the same amount of direct greenhouse gases as gas-powered cars when driven. This is due to EVs not having a gas-powered engine that emits greenhouse gases, as well as other pollutants.

On average, EVs emit 4,815 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, whereas internal-combustion cars emit 11,435 pounds.

This means EVs emit 64 percent less carbon dioxide than internal combustion cars and that one gas-powered car emits approximately the same amount of greenhouse gases of two EVs.

EVs contribute direct amounts of greenhouse gases from which  the power grids they draw electricity to charge their batteries, but are still cleaner than gas-powered cars, said Koo.

“Studies show that electric vehicles beat gas-powered cars…even if they’re charged in regions that depend heavily on coal,” Koo said.

However, California gets 34 percent of its energy from natural gas. Compared to gasoline, natural gas emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide. This means charging an EV in California is better for the environment than driving a gas-powered car.

Emily Inglese, owner of an all-electric Nissan Leaf, said she has experienced many benefits from owning an EV.

“There’s no maintenance. You don’t have to stop at the gas station and you don’t have to get oil changes,” Inglese said. “It’s about $2 a day to charge it.”

Inglese said driving an EV cut her average gasoline bill in half from $120 to $60 a month.

While she enjoys her car, there are some limitations.

“Without a supercharger, a specialized charging device, it can take up to 12 hours to fully charge the  EV. However, buying an EV is worth it as long as the car is being used for short commutes between home and work,” Inglese said.

Michelle Robinson, Villa Park resident and owner of a Tesla Model S D75, said she bought her car because  she likes the idea of driving a car that improves the environment.

“I like that it is automated, quiet…and preserves the environment,” Robinson said.

If EV makers reduce battery production pollution and EVs continue charging from cleaner power grids, they can possibly  produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than gas-powered cars.

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