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E-cars: Particulate matter emissions higher than those of combustion engines

Electric cars produce almost as much particulate matter as combustion engines, yet they are not regulated. The increase in the number of electric cars could therefore soon lead to a deterioration in air quality and new driving bans for combustion engines.

Electric cars are touted as virtually emission-free. However, they are only so with regard to exhaust fumes from the tailpipe. The vehicles continue to produce a lot of fine dust through so-called non-exhaust-emissions, i.e. particles that are not caused by the exhaust but by other sources. The main contributors to these emissions are tyre, brake and road wear.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is therefore now calling for emissions to be regulated for e-cars as well. Due to the specifications for internal combustion engines, particulate matter pollution in European cities has fallen significantly in recent years. Calculations on Euro 6 temp vehicles, i.e. the latest generation of combustion engines, show how low the proportion of emissions from combustion engines has now become: around 95 to 98 percent of primary PM10 emissions and 88 to 96 percent of primary PM2.5 emissions are thus caused by non-exhaust-emissions. From 2035 onwards, non-exhaust emissions from the entire vehicle fleet are expected to exceed engine emissions.

By 2050, passenger transport is expected to more than double. Even if mainly e-cars will then be on the road, abrasion will have serious consequences for particulate matter pollution in urban areas. Moreover, battery-powered vehicles are usually heavier than cars with combustion engines and therefore have more wear and tear on tyres, brakes and roads. While light e-vehicles have even lower non-exhaustive emissions than combustion engines, heavy e-vehicles can produce about three to eight percent more emissions. The OECD therefore forecasts that non-exhaustive emissions will increase by 53.5 percent to 1.3 megatonnes by 2030.

Regulation of e-cars is therefore also necessary for the environmental zones in European cities, so that the polluters can be identified as such. If particulate matter pollution increases again in the next few years, the main increases will otherwise be diesel driving bans and an extension of the rules for petrol cars.