Oakland, California – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is funding a US$900,000 research project at the University of California’s Davis campus to learn what emissions are produced by alternative-fuel vehicles and how climate change might affect those emissions.

The research is urgently needed to improve forecasts of how climate change will affect air quality in California, said Michael Kleeman, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the project’s lead researcher. “We know from past studies that motor vehicles are a major source of airborne particles in California and across the United States, and higher concentrations of airborne particles are associated with higher death rates, so public agencies are already working to reduce vehicle emissions to protect public health. Now comes climate change, with shifts in patterns of air temperature and humidity levels. Those shifts will affect the particle emissions from cars and trucks and how those particles age in the atmosphere. So the net effect of climate change on vehicle emissions in the coming decades has major public health implications in California.”

During the four-year study, researchers will take air samples from exhaust pipes of alternative-fuel vehicles and analyze the size and chemical composition of the exhaust particles under a range of temperature and humidity conditions. Test vehicles include E85 cars and light-duty trucks, plug-in hybrid electric cars, gasoline-electric hybrid cars, and heavy-duty trucks powered by biodiesel.

The information will be incorporated into air pollution and regional climate models running on hundreds of computers; the researchers will use the improved data input in their models to better predict how future transportation exhaust particles will age in a warmer atmosphere, and what this might mean for public health.

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