Electric Vehicles: Meeting In-Cabin Air Quality Standards

The time of smog-filled skylines, visible miles away from major metropolitan areas, are limited. The influx of electric vehicles (EV) on roads across the globe happening soon will positively impact air quality and the natural environment. As the number of EVs increases, exhaust emissions from automobiles will decrease.

Electric Vehicles: Meeting In-Cabin Air Quality Standards

Image Credit: Amphenol Advanced Sensors

The electrification of automobiles and other types of vehicles is a major win for activists, scientists and governments taking action on climate change and dependency on fossil fuels. The focus on EVs and air quality is shifting now toward a different environment – the environment inside the vehicle.

Countries around the world are beginning to enact strict regulations for in-cabin air quality for automobiles of all makes and models, including electric cars.

Significantly, China announced voluntary standards for certain in-car air pollutants, which are expected to be met by all vehicles sold in the country. However, what is concerning is the lack of in-cabin air quality regulations in the United States.

From the perspective of automakers, building electric vehicles to meet the regulations upheld by some governments means building all vehicles to those standards.

Doing this will necessitate electric vehicle HVAC systems to be more robust and feature air quality sensor technology capable of detecting and controlling pollutants that compromise respiratory health and in-car air quality.

The In-Cabin Airborne Contaminants Affecting Drivers and Passengers

Both passengers and drivers are spending more time on the road than they were previously. Health issues have been directly linked to the air quality inside a vehicle.

Studies have shown exhaust and emissions may lead to serious medical conditions among individuals that spend too much time inside a vehicle while driving.

EVs are zero-emission vehicles. However, they will not immediately solve all problems with air quality. Vehicles with internal combustion engines will still be in use as they become replaced by greener counterparts. 

No matter the type of vehicle, in-cabin air quality is impacted by two factors:

  1. Pollutants
  2. Recirculated air 

Pollutants 

Pollutants are the most obvious contaminant to air quality and also have the largest impact on both the long-term and immediate health of passengers and drivers. However, pollutants do not simply include those outside a vehicle that make their way in. 

The pollutants that most commonly compromise the quality of in-cabin air include: 

  • Exhaust
  • Ultrafine particles, like carbonaceous soot from brake dust or diesel exhaust
  • VOCs (volatile organic compounds, like hydrocarbons) 

Exhaust 

Exhaust is not yet a thing of the past, even though electric vehicles are slated to replace ICE vehicles. It will take several decades before ICE vehicles are completely off from roads. 

EV drivers will still be exposed to dangerous gas pollutants from nearby vehicles as long as traditional cars and trucks are on the road. These include: 

  • Hydrocarbons
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide
  • Ozone
  • Nitrogen Dioxide 

Prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes has severe health impacts, as is also the case with VOCs. 

Fine Particles 

The standard HVAC filtration systems in vehicles only do so much to remove large particulates, such as dirt or mold spores, from the air brought inside a car. The systems do not cleanse the air of fine particles, which are typically 25 times less than the diameter of a human hair. These fine particles include: 

  • Smoke
  • Salts
  • Dust 

Nanoparticles stay within a person’s respiratory system if inhaled and can reduce lung function or exacerbate existing breathing conditions. 

VOCs 

More passengers and drivers will be exposed to that “new-car smell” in the next decade as millions of electric vehicles set to hit the road. That smell is a defining characteristic of a brand new vehicle for many drivers. 

However, the “new car scent” is not too different than paint fumes. Similar to the smell of a fresh coat of paint, the new-car scent is created by the off-gassing of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), or more specifically: 

  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Acetone 

Common side effects for passengers and drivers exposed to the VOCs in a new car include dizziness, fatigue and headaches. China has announced new regulations to reduce the risk of driver exposure to these hazardous fumes by limiting the amount of these gases that can be released within a new vehicle. 

Recirculated Air 

Recirculated air is really just recycled air – this includes any pollutants or other contaminants inside a vehicle introduced by the occupants or the environment the vehicle is driving in and respired air from breathing. 

As humans breathe out carbon dioxide, when they are in a well-sealed vehicle the carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise; having a greater number of occupants in a vehicle will generate harmful levels of carbon dioxide in relatively short time frames. 

Recirculating air presents a bigger challenge in electric vehicles because many EVs use a HVAC system’s recirculation function to conserve energy and maintain efficiency. Less energy is needed to cool or heat recirculated air than to cool or heat “fresh” outside air using an HVAC system, but the cost of those power savings is health. 

Vehicle occupants remain exposed to in-cabin air pollutants as well as CO2 without a proper filtration system or the presence of new, clean air, which can contribute to long-term issues with respiratory health and short-term issues with attentiveness. 

Breathing Easy with EV Sensor Technology

Most passengers and drivers don’t realize their level of exposure to in-cabin air contaminants, which is one of the problems. Many of the most common airborne impurities are odorless or invisible to the naked eye. 

Using sensors in electric cars can be essential to ensure that electric vehicle HVAC systems meet air quality standards. For reducing electric vehicle air pollutions, using HEPA filters to cleanse in-cabin air is only half the equation. 

Using sensors to detect all airborne contaminants and pollutants is the other. These sophisticated sensors can detect ultrafine gases and particulates, including CO, NOx, carbon dioxide and VOCs inside and outside the vehicle. 

Sensor technology detects pollutants that threaten health and automatically activates air-cleaning systems, something that can’t be done with the five human senses alone. Using sensor technology and a filtration system in tandem, it is possible to meet in-cabin air quality standards while reducing exposure to toxic fumes and particles. 

Improving Air Quality in Multiple Environments 

Electric vehicles represent a major step forward for protecting the natural environment and are a game-changer for drastically reducing emissions. EVs are poised to take public health protection to the next level thanks to anticipated electric vehicle safety standards for in-cabin air quality leveraging the latest pollutant sensor technology.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Amphenol Advanced Sensors.

For more information on this source, please visit Amphenol Advanced Sensors.

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