Electric cars could help feed the world by reducing pollution: researchers

Electric cars could help feed the world by reducing pollution, according to new research.

Gases emitted by traffic reduce crop productivity, which in turn leads to lower crop yields.

Scientists used satellite imagery to reveal the phenomenon for the first time.

Hyundai Ioniq battery electric vehicle
A Hyundai Ioniq battery electric vehicle (BEV) charges at an electric car charging station operated by Ionity GmbH at the Skelton Lake motorway service station on April 26, 2022 in Leeds, England.
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Lead author Professor David Lobell of Stanford University in California said: “Nitrogen oxides are invisible to humans.

“But new satellites have been able to map them with incredibly high precision.

“We can also measure crop production from space.

“This provided an opportunity to rapidly improve our knowledge of how these gases affect agriculture in different regions.”

Nitrogen oxides or NOx come from car exhaust, power plants, factories and fertilizers.

They are among the most commonly emitted pollutants and have been linked to a variety of human diseases.

Removing them from the atmosphere could lead to dramatic yield increases in fruits, vegetables and grains.

They damage plant cells, absorb and scatter sunlight, and fuel airborne ozone, the US team explained.

The study in Science Advances sheds new light on their direct impact. It compared satellite measurements of plant greenness and NOx levels for 2018 to 2020.

Nitrogen dioxide interacts with ultraviolet light, allowing for measurements with a much higher spatial and temporal resolution than any other air pollutant.

Co-author Professor Jennifer Burney of the University of California San Diego said: “Not only is nitrogen dioxide more easily measurable than other pollutants, but it also has the nice property of being a primary pollutant, meaning it is emitted directly rather than formed in the atmosphere.”

“This means that attributing emissions to impacts is much easier than for other pollutants.”

By 2050, over 9 billion people will need to be fed – 2 billion more than today. The ecological challenges are enormous.

Halving NOx emissions would improve winter and summer yields by about a quarter and 15 percent respectively in China, by almost 10 percent in Western Europe and by 8 and 6 percent in India.

North and South America generally had the lowest NOx exposures.

Overall, the impacts appeared to be most negative in seasons and in locations where the gas drives ozone formation.

Burney said: “The actions you would take to reduce NOx, like electrifying vehicles, closely overlap with the types of energy conversion needed to slow climate change and improve local air quality for human health to enhance.

“The key finding from this study is that the agricultural benefits of these measures could be truly significant, enough to meet the challenge of feeding a growing population.”

Previous research by the same team estimated that reductions in ozone, particulate matter, NOx and sulfur dioxide contributed about 20 percent to the increase in U.S. corn and soybean yields worth about $5 billion per year between 1999 and 2019.

Future analyzes could incorporate other satellite observations such as photosynthetic activity measured by sun-induced fluorescence to better understand the effects of NOx during the growing season.

Similarly, a more detailed study of other pollutants, as well as drought and heat, could help explain why the gas affects plants differently in different regions, years, and seasons.

Co-author Stefania Di Tommaso, data analyst at Stanford, added: “It’s really exciting how many different things can now be measured from satellites, many of them from new European satellites.

“As the data continues to improve, it’s really pushing us as scientists to be more ambitious and creative in the kinds of questions we ask.”

The US has yet to introduce a future ban on gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, but three states – Washington, New York and California – have announced they will.

More than two dozen countries, including the UK, Canada, India, China and Japan, have all introduced plans to ban gas-powered vehicles, some as early as 2025.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

https://www.newsweek.com/electric-cars-could-help-feed-world-reducing-pollution-researchers-1712234 Electric cars could help feed the world by reducing pollution: researchers

Rick Schindler

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