Air pollution kills more than 100,000 people per year, so by driving cars that run on electricity rather than gasoline we could potentially save lives, according to a new study. In fact, using this renewable energy could reduce air pollution-related deaths by a staggering 70 percent.

Now, you would think that any alternative to using carbon-producing gasoline, such as corn ethanol or coal-based and "grid average" electricity, would provide added health benefits. But researchers say that this is not the case. Making the switch from gasoline to those fuels would actually 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 renewables, in substantially reducing the negative health impacts of transportation," study co-author Chris Tessum, from the University of Minnesota, said in a statement.

Researchers looked at liquid biofuels, diesel, compressed natural gas, and electricity from a range of conventional and renewable sources, paying special attention to levels of two important pollutants - particulate matter and ground-level ozone. They found that when it comes to pollution from vehicles, you shouldn't just consider emissions from driving, but also from the production process of the fuels or electricity that powers them.

For instance, with ethanol air pollution is released from tractors on farms, from soils after fertilizers are used, and to supply the energy for fermenting and distilling corn into ethanol.

"Our work highlights the importance of looking at the full life cycle of energy production and use, not just at what comes out of tailpipes," added co-author Jason Hill.

It's true that cars contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions with the carbon dioxide released from their fumes, but air pollution is also an important side effect, increasing rates of heart attack, stroke and respiratory disease among people.

This study goes to show that practicing more eco-friendly living by purchasing electric cars doesn't just help save our planet, it also helps save lives.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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