Electric cars are not a miracle cure for pollution

Quebec and Canada are betting big on electrifying transport to meet their climate goals. However, while these vehicles emit less carbon dioxide than their combustion engine counterparts, they are not exempt from all atmospheric pollution, reveals a comparative study that has just been published by the French Agency for the Ecological Transition (ADEME).

In addition to carbon dioxide (COtwo) and nitrogen oxides (NOX), petrol or diesel vehicles produce fine particles, which mainly contribute to the formation of urban smog and whose absorption can cause several serious diseases in humans.

Tightening anti-pollution regulations in recent years, both in North America and Europe, has led manufacturers to install increasingly efficient emission filters to eliminate particles produced by combustion engines. The result: more than half of the fine particles emitted by road vehicles today no longer come from the exhaust, but from the wear and tear of other elements – the brakes, the tires, the road – notes ‘ADEME.

The “other” automobile pollution

In a report published at the end of April, the agency indicates that “recent studies do not show a significant difference in total particulate emissions between long-range electric vehicles and current new thermal vehicles, which emit almost no more exhaust particulates.

In Europe, warns ADEME, “particles not emitted by braking systems, tires or roads have become largely predominant compared to exhaust gas emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles equipped with a particulate filter. They would correspond to more than half of the particles generated by road traffic”.

This trend will increase and overall particulate emissions will not fall further if there is no regulation on brake or tire particulate emissions, the French agency adds.

As for the impact that electric vehicles will have on this trend, he pointed out that, as these vehicles are generally heavier and use wider tyres, one cannot count on the reduction in emissions caused by regenerative braking, which slows down the vehicle that uses it. the engine instead of the brakes.

If electric vehicles promise to eliminate GHG emissions from combustion engines, it is not the case with the fine particles outside the exhaust gases, concludes ADEME, and these will continue to affect the health of humans, soils and waterways. . “The long-term effects on ecosystems are poorly documented, and the accumulation of this pollution in the food chain raises questions. »

In France, for example, the Energy Transition Agency recommends that the government regulate brake and tire systems more rigorously to reduce fine particulate emissions.

a weight problem

At home, discouraging the purchase of ever-larger vehicles would be a first step in the right direction, thinks the Équiterre organization.

The example of General Motors’ brand new GMC Hummer EV is eloquent: this huge electric SUV weighs no less than 4,110 kilograms, almost four times the average weight of a gasoline sedan (about 1,100 kilograms). The American manufacturer says it has received 65,000 pre-orders for this steamroller.

In its ads, GM presents its Hummer as a vehicle for nature-loving adventurers. “It makes no sense to associate this vehicle with nature”, laments Andréanne Brazeau, mobility analyst at Équiterre. “Electric vehicles like this are not sober, either energetically or in terms of materials. Governments are counting on electrification to meet their climate goals, but they forget to look at the weight and dimensions of vehicles. »

Équiterre has been attacking car advertising for several months, which the organization considers misleading. In these ads, we often take the shortcut that the bigger the vehicle, the safer it will be. “We especially commend the safety of people on board,” notes MI Brazeau. The fact that SUVs are also heavier and require longer braking distances is obviously never mentioned.

Electric vehicles like [le GMC Hummer EV] they are not sober, either energetically or materially. Governments are counting on electrification to meet their climate goals, but they forget to look at the weight and dimensions of vehicles.

To try to break this cycle, Équiterre intends to launch an advertising campaign on Monday that it hopes will be “provocative” enough to make people react. Its theme: “no SUV for me”, reveals Andréanne Brazeau.

Équiterre hopes to make the public aware of the criteria to be taken into account when purchasing a vehicle. The organization also wants to reflect on the need to buy a vehicle. “For those who live on the outskirts, maybe it’s better to have just one instead of two, and in the city maybe carsharing is a better solution”, illustrates MI Brazeau. Because, at the end of the day, the best solution to solving the issue of automobile pollution is to reduce its number on the roads.

Their number. Then your weight. And their polluting emissions, in all their forms. Because, according to studies, electrification alone will not be enough.

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