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Hidden costs: Electric vehicle tires emit 20% more pollution

In recent years, electric vehicles (EVs) have been praised as a sustainable solution to the environmental issues posed by traditional gasoline-powered cars. However, new research shows that EVs may carry a hidden environmental cost: their tires.

Specialists have issued warnings that tires, often overlooked in discussions about pollution, release a significant amount of chemicals and microplastics into the environment. Electric vehicle tires, in particular, have been found to produce up to 20% more pollution compared to those on gasoline vehicles.

Electric vehicles are heavier 

One key factor contributing to the higher pollution levels is the overall weight of EVs. Typically, electric cars are heavier and accelerate faster than their gas-powered counterparts, leading to an increased shedding of tiny particles into the air as the tires wear down.

Research company Emissions Analytics conducted road tests and found that under normal driving conditions, a gasoline car sheds around 73 milligrams per kilometer from four new tires. In contrast, a similar electric vehicle sheds an additional 15 milligrams per kilometer – a pollution increase of approximately 20 percent.

“The increased pollution is due to a combination of the vehicle’s weight and the torque, which refers to how aggressively the car can accelerate,” Nick Molden, founder and CEO of Emissions Analytics, explained to “Electric motors are known for their ability to accelerate very quickly. Combined with the heavy weight of the vehicle, this leads to more wear and tear on the tires.”

Molden also pointed out that a typical electric car weighs about 1,000 pounds more than its gasoline counterpart.

Pros and cons

Comparative studies between popular electric and hybrid vehicles further underscore this concern. In March, Emissions Analytics released a study that compared the Tesla Model Y, the top-selling EV in the US, with the similarly-sized hybrid Kia Niro. The experts found that the Tesla produced 26 percent more tire emissions than the Kia.

“From a CO2 perspective, the Tesla is better, but not significantly so. You have to weigh the extra CO2 reduction against the increased tire emissions,” said Molden.

According to a 2017 study, the average American produces approximately 10 pounds of tire emissions per year, while the global average is under two pounds. Notably, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has identified tires as the second leading source of microplastic pollution in oceans, with textiles taking the lead.

Molden suggested that instead of investing in larger, heavier vehicles, consumers should consider smaller, lighter, and more economical vehicles to genuinely address environmental concerns.

Record sales

These revelations come amid a surge in the electric vehicle market, driven by record sales from companies like Tesla, co-founded by billionaire Elon Musk. The company recently reported a record-breaking second quarter, delivering 446,140 cars worldwide, surpassing its own prediction of 445,000.

This rise in electric vehicle adoption has been boosted by federal tax credits in the US. However, experts caution that the initial cost premium of an electric vehicle could take up to a decade to pay off, considering that the average electric car costs nearly $20,000 more upfront than a gas-powered one.

Yet, not all automakers are onboard with the electric vehicle push. Last week, leading automakers criticized President Joe Biden’s plan, which aims for two-thirds of new vehicle sales to be electric by 2032, calling it “overly optimistic.” The criticism focused on the inadequate charging infrastructure and the high cost of EVs to consumers.

Tire emissions are not the only environmental concern tied to electric vehicles. Critics also point to the eco-impact of lithium-ion batteries, which require rare metals and significant energy to manufacture.

Hybrids have great potential 

Despite these challenges, Molden remains optimistic about the potential of hybrid vehicles, which he describes as a “no-brainer” in addressing environmental problems. 

“Hybrids are hardly heavier than normal vehicles and they deliver a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. If we genuinely want to address the environmental problem, the intuitive way of doing it is to make smaller, lighter vehicles, rather than bigger and heavier ones.”


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