E-cars contribute massively to particulate pollution, but unlike internal combustion vehicles, they are not regulated. Heavy sedans and SUVs in particular produce large amounts of the harmful particles. Will they soon be threatened with a driving ban?
The engines of electric cars are clean and quiet. Soon they are expected to displace vehicles with combustion engines from the roads. But the vehicles' particulate emissions are a cause for concern. Although hardly any of the fine particles are emitted by the engine, they are mostly released into the air by so-called non-exhaust emissions, i.e. the abrasion of tyres and brake pads as well as abrasion from the road. Between 88 and 98 percent of the particulate matter produced by e-cars is caused by these emissions.
Heavy e-cars in particular contribute massively to particulate pollution. Large batteries usually make the cars heavier than internal combustion engines, which contributes to increased abrasion of the pavements. While lighter e-cars with an average range of 160 kilometres emit about 11 to 13 percent less particulate matter than comparable internal combustion vehicles, heavy vehicles with a range of up to 500 km actually emit more particulate matter than internal combustion vehicles: about 3 to 8 percent. But not only the battery and the associated range, but also the body naturally contribute to the weight. However, the trend for electric cars is also moving more and more in the direction of heavy sedans and SUVs.
For a long time now, combustion engines have been regulated by the standards of the European Union. In the meantime, only vehicles that comply with the latest Euro standard, Euro 6, and thus do not exceed a certain limit value for emissions, may be brought onto the market. In 2025, even a further tightening is to come into force. Since e-cars do not emit any emissions through combustion processes, this standardisation for electric cars was not considered necessary for a long time. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is now calling for such a limit value to regulate non-exhaust emissions.
The tyre manufacturer Michelin has recognised the problem and wants to produce tyres that no longer produce particulate matter from 2050. However, this goal is a long way off. Until then, e-cars are probably not the solution, at least as far as particulate matter pollution in cities is concerned. The quickest way to regulate e-cars would be to introduce limit values for them and also adapt the environmental zones accordingly. In this way, heavy e-cars with high particulate matter emissions could soon be barred from the environmental zones.