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Billions of dollars and thousands of lives could be saved if the US switched just a quarter of its internal combustion engine (ICE) cars to electric, a study has found.

Researchers from Northwestern University combined climate modeling with public health data to evaluate the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on US lives and the economy.

Around $17bn (£13bn) would be saved annually if only 25 percent of vehicles were EVs due to the avoidance of damages from climate change and air pollution.

Furthermore, if 75 percent of cars were replaced with EVs, alongside increased renewable energy generation, the savings could reach $70bn annually.

“Vehicle electrification in the United States could prevent hundreds to thousands of premature deaths annually while reducing carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of tons,” said Daniel Peters, who led the study.

“This highlights the potential of co-beneficial solutions to climate change that not only curb greenhouse gas emissions but also reduce the health burden of harmful air pollution.”

Northwestern’s Daniel Horton, the senior author of the study, added: “From an engineering and technological standpoint, people have been developing solutions to climate change for years.

“But we need to rigorously assess these solutions. This study presents a nuanced look at EVs and energy generation and found that EV adoption not only reduces greenhouse gases but saves lives.”

The researchers looked at vehicle fleet and emissions data from 2014. It was found that if 25 percent of US drivers adopted EVs in 2014, with consideration given to the available energy generation infrastructure at the time, then 250 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions would have been mitigated.

Although the impact of carbon emissions on the climate is well documented, combustion engines also produce other harmful pollutants, such as particulate matter and the precursors to ground-level ozone.

Such pollutants can trigger a variety of health problems, including asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and ultimately premature death.

The researchers simulated air pollutant changes across the lower 48 states, based on different levels of EV adoption and renewable energy generation.

Combining this information with publicly available county health data from the US Environmental Protection Agency allowed them to assess health consequences from the air quality changes caused by each electrification scenario.

The research team assigned dollar values to the avoided climate and health damages that could be brought about by EV adoption by applying the social cost of carbon and value of statistical life metrics to their emission change results. These commonly used policy tools attach a price tag to long-term health, environmental and agricultural damages.

“The social cost of carbon and value of statistical life is much-studied and much-debated metrics,” Horton said, “but they are regularly used to make policy decisions. It helps put a tangible value on the consequences of emitting largely intangible gases into the public sphere that is our shared atmosphere.”

Ref: Engineering and Technology

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