Driving vehicles that use electricity from renewable energy instead of gasoline could reduce the resulting deaths due to air pollution by 70 percent, says a study.
The researchers from University of Minnesota also found that vehicles running on corn ethanol or powered by coal-based or "grid average" electricity are worse for health.
Switching from gasoline to those fuels would increase the number of resulting deaths due to air pollution by 80 percent or more.
"These findings demonstrate the importance of clean electricity, such as from natural gas or renewable sources of energy, in substantially reducing the negative health impacts of transportation," said study co-author Chris Tessum from University of Minnesota, US.
Air pollution increases rates of heart attack, stroke, and respiratory disease.
The researchers estimated how concentrations of two important pollutants - particulate matter and ground-level ozone - change as a result of using various options for powering vehicles.
They looked at liquid biofuels, diesel, compressed natural gas, and electricity from a range of conventional and renewable sources.
Their analysis included not only the pollution from vehicles, but also emissions generated during production of the fuels or electricity that power them.
"Our work highlights the importance of looking at the full life cycle of energy production and use, not just at what comes out of tail pipes," co-author of the study Jason Hill pointed out.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.