Effect of Electric Vehicles on Air Quality


    In Context

    • As per a new Study, swapping fossil fuel-based vehicles with vehicles powered by cleaner fuels can decrease the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) by 76%.


    • The aim of the study was to document the effect of various pollutants contained in vehicle emissions and to find cleaner solutions for better air quality. It took into account various factors like the expected growth in the number of vehicles, per capita income and population growth.
    • The study concluded that VOC emissions could be decreased by swapping two and three-wheelers with electric vehicles, and heavy vehicles with CNG-powered vehicles.
    • Apart from VOCs, the researchers also said that a decrease in emissions can lower the amount of Black Carbon in the environment. Black Carbon not only causes health problems like respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, but it also contributes to climate change.

    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    • About
      • VOCs are carbon-containing chemicals that have both natural origin as well as anthropogenic origins. They include Benzene, Toluene, Ethylene, Xylene (combinedly called BTEX), Formaldehyde, Glycol, etc.
        • Natural: VOCs are produced by the plants for multiple reasons, including pollination, deterring pests as well as adapting to environmental stress.
        • Anthropogenic: VOCs are produced by Vehicles powered by petrol and diesel.
    • Effect of VOCs: 
      • Human Health: VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and other body organs. Long exposure to VOCs can also increase the risk of cancer as they are carcinogenic in nature. This is relevant in the context of air pollution-linked deaths, which amount to almost 1.67 million in 2019.
      • Secondary Pollutants: VOCs can lead to the formation of other secondary pollutants like ground-level ozone and PM2.5. Ozone at the ground level can increase the risk of asthma, cough and other breathing-related problems. Similarly, PM2.5 particles can also reach deep inside the human lungs.
      • Air Quality: Vehicular pollutants, including VOCs, account for 65-80% of vehicle emissions. Therefore, it is imperative to control emissions especially in a country like India, which is home to 14 out of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world and lost 1.36% of its GDP to air pollution-related deaths.

    Way Forward

    • Monitoring the Emission Levels: It is difficult to resolve an issue if we do not have the means to quantify the problem. Therefore, it is critical to ensure measurement of VOCs so that extent of the problem can be calculated and steps are taken to resolve the issue.
      • National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS): NAAQS was adopted in 1982 and subsequently revised in 1994 and 2009 to measure prime air pollutants. As of now, amongst VOCs, it is only Benzene, which is measured as a part of NAAQS. 
      • Other pollutants measured by NAAQS are Sulphur Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, PM2.5, PM10, Ozone, Lead, Carbon Monoxide, Ammonia, Benzo (a) Pyrene, Arsenic, Nickel.
    • Promotion of Electric Vehicles: As per the Ministry of Heavy Industries, India sold almost 2.4 lakh electric vehicles till Jan 2022. Therefore, the sale of electric vehicles is increasing in the country. However, we still have to go a long way as India’s electric car share was hardly 1% of the overall sales, as per International Energy Agency (IEA).
      • Alternative to Fossil Fuel: Promotion of electric vehicles is also necessary considering India imports almost 80% of its fossil fuel requirement and loses precious foreign exchange in the process.
    • Creation of Capacity for Electricity Generation: As the sales of electric vehicles increase, there is a need to ensure that the supply of electricity is not a bottleneck in their adoption, especially since electric vehicles consumed almost 80 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity around the world in 2020. As per IEA, India’s electricity demand in 2030 for electric vehicles would be almost 45 TWh.


    • The adoption of Electric Vehicles is increasing in India with the advancement in technology. However, considering the levels of pollution in the country, there is a need to ensure facilitation to the sector so that vehicular pollution levels can be decreased and a cleaner environment can be ensured for the coming generations.

    Source: DTE