ENGINEERING

The Pros (and Cons) of Plugging In

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Science  18 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6019, pp. 823
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6019.823-a
CREDIT: RAMIN TALAIE/CORBIS

The adage out of sight, out of mind has some resonance as the first big crop of plug-in hybrid cars hits the road in the United States. People see and sometimes smell gasoline; plugging a car into a socket may make it seem like the energy is conjured from the ether. Of course, power plants actually bear the burden, and Peterson et al. are among the growing number of researchers gauging the implications. They have examined the net effect on carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions of replacing a fraction of the cars in a number of Eastern and Midwestern U.S. states with plug-in hybrids. They modeled several different scenarios, such as when cars were charged and whether carbon dioxide emissions were priced or captured and sequestered. For a 10% hybrid fleet scenario, they found significant reductions in CO2 emissions across the board, and NOx reductions in most cases. The principal drawback was an increase in sulfur dioxide emissions as demand for coal combustion rose.

Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 10.1021/es102464y (2011).

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