Potential for Electric Vehicle Adoption to Mitigate Extreme Air Quality Events in China

J. L. Schnell*, D. R. Peters, D. C. Wong, X. Lu, H. Guo, H. Zhang, P. L. Kinney, D. E. Horton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Electric vehicle (EV) adoption promises potential air pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction co-benefits. As such, China has aggressively incentivized EV adoption, however much remains unknown with regard to EVs’ mitigation potential, including optimal vehicle type prioritization, power generation contingencies, effects of Clean Air regulations, and the ability of EVs to reduce acute impacts of extreme air quality events. Here, we present a suite of scenarios with a chemistry transport model that assess the potential co-benefits of EVs during an extreme winter air quality event. We find that regardless of power generation source, heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) electrification consistently improves air quality in terms of NO2 and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), potentially avoiding 562 deaths due to acute pollutant exposure during the infamous January 2013 pollution episode (∼1% of total premature mortality). However, HDV electrification does not reduce GHG emissions without enhanced emission-free electricity generation. In contrast, due to differing emission profiles, light-duty vehicle (LDV) electrification in China consistently reduces GHG emissions (∼2 Mt CO2), but results in fewer air quality and human health improvements (145 avoided deaths). The calculated economic impacts for human health endpoints and CO2 reductions for LDV electrification are nearly double those of HDV electrification in present-day (155M vs. 87M US$), but are within ∼25% when enhanced emission-free generation is used to power them. Overall, we find only a modest benefit for EVs to ameliorate severe wintertime pollution events, and that continued emission reductions in the power generation sector will have the greatest human health and economic benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020EF001788
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • air quality
  • climate change
  • electric vehicles (EVs)
  • pollution episode

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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