Air Pollution, Air Quality And Electric Cars: The Basics

air pollution

Electric Cars: The Basics

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If There Is One Thing No One In India Can Escape From, It Is The Pollution, In Particular The Air Pollution! 

Looking back at my years in high school in Darjeeling, the world famous hill station nestled in the Himalayas, I recall vividly the fresh air and sense of pure exhilaration from absorbing the natural beauty that surrounded us.  

Thirty five years later, on my first visit to Darjeeling since leaving high school, the environment that greeted us, could not be further from the reality of the mid-80’s.  

The untouched and gentle hillsides had been invaded by urbanization, the streets, once empty were blocked with a million internal combustion engine (ICE) petrol and diesel vehicles. The air, that was once pure enough to give you eternal mortality, now toxic. The Darjeeling I fondly cherished had simply evaporated.

In fact, air pollution has been documented globally as one of the key issues in increased mortality rates, in particular, to those that are most vulnerable: the children and the aged.  Increased air pollution has been linked to increases in premature deaths, higher rates of cancer, heart attacks, stroke and lung diseases.   

Sadly, Darjeeling is not an isolated incident in India.  Indeed the predicament worsens as you get closer to more densely populated urban centres, the 2nd and 3rd tier cities.  Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru are just some of the examples of cities with dangerous levels of toxic air pollution or poor air quality.  In fact, air pollution levels have been so high in India in the past few months, that it has captured the attention of the world media. 

Many factors affect the level of air pollution, but one that is significant, is the pollution released from road transportation, commonly referred to as ‘emissions’ or tailpipe emissions.  For the majority of the globe, to include, India, emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles contribute more than 30% to air pollution.  This is an average, and certainly, in more populated cities like Delhi and Mumbai, the level of toxic contribution from vehicle exhausts will be even higher.  The other major contributor to air pollution is energy production and consumptions (fossil fuels).  

The world of electric driving, also referred to as zero-emission or emission-free driving, is very closely connected and correlated to air pollution.  Electric vehicles are referred to as zero-emissions simply because these vehicles do not emit toxic pollutants from the tailpipe.  To be more specific, a pure-electric car or a battery-electric vehicle or an all-electric vehicle, do not release any pollutants from the tailpipe or exhaust.  In fact, it is one of the core reasons why electric vehicles are becoming so popular globally and replacing polluting diesel and electric cars i.e. the significant and important benefit to the environment.  

In India too, for us to build a long term sustainable and healthy society, free from the dangers of toxic air pollution, we will need to replace our existing polluting mode of transportation by emission-free electric vehicles.  This process has now commenced in India and the recent launches of electric vehicles like the all-electric Tata Nexon SUV, the all-electric MG ZS SUV and the all-electric Hyundai Kona are a start of the process.  In 2020 and beyond we will witness many more battery-electric vehicles or all-electric battery cars being introduced into India.  

MG ZS EV SUV electric car
The All-Electric MG ZS SUV (credit: MG)

So The Big Question Is, What Exactly Is Air Pollution?

  • Air pollution is the release of pollutants in our atmosphere that have a negative impact on the health of individuals and the environment as a whole. 
  • The majority of pollutants are invisible.  The are minutely small particles (finely divided solids) or gases that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  These extremely small solid or liquid particles are also called particulates. Examples are: fumes, smoke, dust and soot.  The majority of these particulates are less than 10 micrometres.    
  • Air pollution can affect the environment both outdoors and indoors. There are a number of different types of pollutants, but the most well known are particulate matter, carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.  
Carbon Dioxide CO2
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) A Major Pollutant
  • Both carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NO2), contribute to smog formation, very common in the winter months.  Sulphur dioxide (SO2) contributes to haze and also acid rain formation.  Particulate matters also contributes to haze and acid rain.  All the above negatively impact health by increasing irritation of breathing passages, aggravation of asthma and irregular heartbeat. 
  • Pollutants like carbon dioxide have a far reaching consequence on our lives.  It is not only air pollution that it impacts, but as being a major source of greenhouse gas, CO2 has a long-term and detrimental impact on our environment and ecosystem.  More commonly refereed to as ‘climate change’.
  • Most of us know in India are familiar with PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter). These are tiny particles or droplets that are two and one half microns or less in width.  A micron is a unit of measurement of length equal to one millionth of a metre.  An increase in levels of PM 2.5 concentrations result in an increase in unhealthy air quality, haze etc.  Vehicle exhausts are a major contributor to higher levels of PM 2.5 in the air.    
  • Though measures like reducing traffic (odd-even system in Delhi), wearing air masks etc. can help reduce the impact of pollution, the reduction is not far-reaching.  Zero-emission road transportation i.e. electric cars, are a panacea for a sustained and comprehensive improvement in air quality.  The sooner, we in India, migrate to electric vehicles, the sooner can we start to improve our local air quality.  
Air Quality Index AQI
Air Quality Index (AQI)
  • In the meantime we would encourage you to constantly keep yourself informed of the latest information on air pollution levels by looking at a real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) feed. The AQI is across six distinct bands, from 50 to 500. 50 (green) is good and 500 (brown) is hazardous.  

While e-zoomed uses reasonable efforts to provide accurate and up-to-date information, some of the information provided is gathered from third parties and has not been independently verified by e-zoomed. While the information from the third party sources is believed to be reliable, no warranty, express or implied, is made by e-zoomed regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of any information. This disclaimer applies to both isolated and aggregate uses of this information.

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Ashvin Suri

Ashvin has been involved with the renewables, energy efficiency and infrastructure sectors since 2006. He is passionate about the transition to a low-carbon economy and electric transportation. Ashvin commenced his career in 1994, working with US investment banks in New York. Post his MBA from the London Business School (1996-1998), he continued to work in investment banking at Flemings (London) and JPMorgan (London). His roles included corporate finance advisory, M&A and capital raising. He has been involved across diverse industry sectors, to include engineering, aerospace, oil & gas, airports and automotive across Asia and Europe. In 2010, he co-founded a solar development platform, for large scale ground and roof solar projects to include, the UK, Italy, Germany and France. He has also advised on various renewable energy (wind and solar) utility scale projects working with global institutional investors and independent power producers (IPP’s) in the renewable energy sector. He has also advised in key international markets like India, to include advising large-scale industrial and automotive group in India. Ashvin has also advised Indian Energy, an IPP backed by Guggenheim (a US$ 165 billion fund). He has also advised a US$ 2 billion, Singapore based group. Ashvin has also worked in the real estate and infrastructure sector, to including working with the Matrix Group (a US$ 4 billion property group in the UK) to launch one of the first few institutional real estate funds for the Indian real estate market. The fund was successfully launched with significant institutional support from the UK/ European markets. He has also advised on water infrastructure, to include advising a Swedish clean technology company in the water sector. He has also been involved with a number of early stage ventures.

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