Study: Electric cars can become greener


NEW YORK - Electric cars will not be dramatically cleaner than autos powered by fossil fuels until they rely less on electricity produced from conventional coal-fired power plants, scientists said yesterday.

"For electric vehicles to become a major green alternative, the power fuel mix has to move away from coal, or cleaner coal technologies have to be developed," said Jared Cohon, chairman of a National Research Council report, "Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use," released yesterday.

About half of U.S. power is generated by burning coal, which emits many times more of traditional pollutants, such as particulates and smog components, than natural gas, and about twice as much of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Nuclear and renewable power would have to generate a larger portion of U.S. power for electric cars to become much greener compared to gasoline-powered cars, Mr. Cohan, who is also president of Carnegie Mellon University, said in an interview.

Advances in coal burning, such as capturing carbon at power plants for burial underground, also could help electric cars become a cleaner alternative to vehicles powered by fossil fuels, he said.

Pollution from energy sources did $120 billion worth of damage to health, agriculture, and recreation in 2005, said the NRC report, which was requested by Congress in 2005 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.