Houston’s air would benefit from EV rollout, study finds

Air quality and public health in the US city of Houston could be significantly improved if it were to replace its current cars with electric vehicles, a new study has found.

Research by Cornell University found that replacing at least 35% of Houston’s gasoline cars and diesel trucks with electric vehicles by 2040 would significantly improve Houston’s economy and increase citizens’ life expectancy.

Houston – ranked the ninth worst city in the US for ozone pollution and 17th for particle pollution in the American Lung Association’s latest State of The Air Report – is set to grow in population by 50% by 2040, with researchers saying that electrification could help the city prepare for its growth.

‘The built environment plays a significant role in affecting our daily life and health,’ said H. Oliver Gao, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, and senior author of the report published in Atmospheric Environment.

‘While transportation provides us with mobility, it impacts our environment and our public health,’ he added. ‘We are enjoying this mobility at a very high cost.’

Houston, Texas. Credit: Henry Han (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The researchers modelled scenarios of Houston adopting EVs to various levels to see how each one would impact Houston’s air quality and public health in 20 years’ time.

These scenarios ranged from ‘business as usual’ and moderate electrification (35%) to a complete move towards electric cars, predicting that 65% of this would rely on potential new combustion and emissions control technologies.

The researchers found that even a moderate switch towards electric cars would substantially reduce the city’s surface ozone levels, while staying the same would lead to increased ozone levels due to a rise in the number of petrol cars and diesel trucks.

Scientists also found that even if Houston’s number of vehicles doubles by 2040, switching to electrification could help lower the city’s emissions and save lives.

A switch to 35% electric vehicles would prevent around 114 premature deaths a year, they said, while moving completely to electric vehicles would save around 250 lives.

Commenting on the figures, Gao said that policymakers must advocate for electrification if they care about the environment, economy and public health.

Gao said: ‘The knowledge is there, but we need mayors and city planners to be creative and innovative to design policies that would help the electrification of the transportation sector.’

The results of the study come as countries across the world are upping their ambitions to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles in favour of electric vehicles.

The UK government currently aims for almost every car and van in the country to be zero emission by 2050 as part of its Road to Zero strategy.