Emissions from Electric and Fuel Cell Cars

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Electric and fuel cell vehicles don’t have tailpipe emissions. This does not, however, mean that these cars are truly zero emission vehicles (ZEV); there are still some emissions from the tailpipe to the smoke stacks where electricity or hydrogen is generated. For fuel cell vehicles, if hydrogen is produced by on-line reformers, additional emissions are introduced. Nevertheless, electric and fuel cell vehicles are far cleaner and pose fewer health risks than internal combustion engines. Among the reasons are:

1. There are options other than fossil fuels for generating electricity or hydrogen. In fact, if nuclear energy or renewable sources such as wind, solar, or hydropower are used, no pollution is produced and these vehicles would truly be zero emission vehicles.

2. Most power plants are located in rural areas and areas away from city centers and other population centers. The health impact is expected to be lessened as pollutants are diluted and scattered over larger distances. Furthermore, it is easier to control emissions from relatively few power plants and stationary sources than from millions of automobile sources on the road.

3. The majority of trips are during city driving when vehicles are not fully warmed up and a significant portion of travel is in stop and go traffic. Conventional vehicles produce a large amount of HC and CO during cold starts, acceleration, and braking.

All in all, substituting EVs and FCVs for conventional vehicles would significantly reduce urban emissions. According to one study, (1) if all conventional vehicles were replaced with electric vehicles, overall hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions would drop by 95-99% and nitric oxides by up to 90%. Ozone and the volatile organic compounds that contribute to urban smog will be eliminated altogether. Sulfur dioxide and particulate emission, however, may drop or rise depending on how much of the electricity comes from coal and oil power plants.


(1) Electric Power Research Institute Website, http://www.epri.com.

(2) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

Further Reading

Tillman, D., Fuels of Opportunity: Characteristics and Uses In Combustion Systems, Academic Press, 2004.

Sorensen, K., Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: Emerging Technologies and Applications, Academic Press, 2005.

Dhameia, S., Electric Vehicle Battery Systems, Academic Press, 2001.

Hussain, I., Electric and Hybrid Vehicles: Design Fundamentals, CRC Press, LLC. 2003.

Jefferson, C.M., and Barnard, R. H., Hybrid Vehicle Propulsion, WIT Press, 2002.

Spelberg, D. The Hydrogen Energy Transition: Moving Toward the Post Petroleum Age in Transportation, Academic Press, 2004.

Fuel, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Fuel focuses on primary research work in the science and technology of fuel and energy fuel science.

Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company; this journal focuses on scholarly research on development, application, and implications in the fields of transportation, control systems, and telecommunications, among others.

Fuel Cells Bulletin, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Fuel Cells Bulletin is the leading source of technical and business news for the fuel cells sector.

International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, Quarterly journal covering various aspects of hydrogen energy, including production, storage, transmission, and utilization, as well as economical and environmental aspects.

External Links

US Department of Transportation (http://www.dot.gov).

US Department of Energy (http://www.doe.gov).

US Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov).

National Energy Renewable Laboratory Hybrid Electric &Fuel Cell Vehicles (http://www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/hev).

FreedomCar (http://www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels).