- Image: ChargePoint

Is there a resource problem with EVs?

This has serious implications...

42w ago

15.1K

As you may well know, many countries (including the UK) have pledged to replace as many cars on the road as possible with EVs. This is all a part of a much bigger plan to create zero carbon economies by 2050. Whilst this aim is all well and good, there are some serious potential consequences starting to emerge regarding a wholesale transfer over to EVs, particularly battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Image: Tesla

Image: Tesla

Assuming that we stick to the current '811' technology, to create batteries for electric cars a decent amount of cobalt is required, as well as nickel, neodymium and manganese. These are all natural elements that require an awful lot of mining and by their nature are not the most easily found in the world. Large amounts of lithium and copper are also required to create EV batteries, something which also makes a noticeable impact on the world's resources.

A team of eight scientists, including the Head of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, are very concerned about this and have written to the Comittee of Climate Change in the UK expressing those concerns. They estimate that in order to fulfil at least the UK's desire to supercharge electrification, they would need almost the total amount of neodymium that's currently demanded by the entire world, as well as at least half the world's current demand for copper and at least three quarters of the world's current demand for lithium.

Image: Rivian

Image: Rivian

In short, what that means is global production for a lot of these materials is going to need to at least double and fast, let alone the increased toll on the national grid that it'll take to be able to support the infrastructure and power required to charge millions of electric cars at any one time. When you look at things this way, an electrified future starts to get less hopeful indeed.

As Professor Richard Herrington, the aforementioned resident staff member of the Natural History Museum, states; "The urgent need to cut CO2 emissions to secure the future of our planet is clear, but there are huge implications for our natural resources... Our role as scientists is to provide the evidence for how best to move towards a zero-carbon economy – society needs to understand that there is a raw material cost of going green."

A Congolese cobalt mine - the 'dirty secret' of our electrified future?

A Congolese cobalt mine - the 'dirty secret' of our electrified future?

Cobalt mining is also mired in ethical problems due to where the majority of it is done. At least 60% of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where politics is incredibly unstable and workers' rights are basically non-existent. It's not been unknown for cobalt to be dug out of the ground by hand and be mined by child workers. As a result, cobalt has become somewhat of a 'dirty secret' in the production of EVs and some manufacturers such as BMW, Kia and Tesla are actively looking into ways to avoid using DRC-sourced cobalt or to even stop using cobalt altogether in their batteries.

So, what's the solution to lessening the potential impact here? It could be to invest more money in the development of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs). FCVs require no batteries, as the electricity comes from a fuel cell generator run on hydrogen. Hydrogen can be produced sustainably by renewable power. Most importantly, though, Hydrogen could be a more efficient way to power bigger vehicles such as trains, ships and aircraft - rechargable batteries for vehicles that big could end up being very big, very heavy and not as energy-efficient as a fuel cell.

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I guess the perennial thing is that we won't see the real impacts until a couple of decades in the future. Whilst that may be a bit scary, we may have no other choice.

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Comments (21)

  • First misconception is that “rare earths” are rare. They are not. They are just no concentrated except in a few places. If the prices rise much, they can be commercially extracted from seawater.

    pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c6ew00268d

    www.mdpi.com/2079-9276/6/3/39/htm

    Second misconception that HFCEV don’t have substantial batteries. They do.

    afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/how-do-fuel-cell-electric-cars-work

    Third misconception. H2 would be better for heavy transport. Ok maybe marine, but not road, trains, or aircraft.

    Aircraft are already being electrified.

    www.theverge.com/2019/12/12/21012891/electric-airplane-first-flight-magnix-harbor-air

    Electric trains are already a thing. They don’t have to carry the batteries.

    www.eesi.org/articles/view/electrification-of-u.s.-railways-pie-in-the-sky-or-realistic-goal

    Bad assumption: we will stick with 811 lithium batteries. Everyone is working on cobalt free batteries, not just Tesla.

    www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/11-lithium-ion-battery-makers-that-dont-need-cobalt

    insideevs.com/news/389659/mercedes-benz-ibm-cobalt-free-battery/

    Another bad assumption, this time one the part of the scientists, that it will happen quickly. It will most likely end up taking a decade to transition new car sales over. And, as BEVs so far demonstrate greater longevity than ICEVs, after an initial peak lasting about a decade, the resources drawn would go down as cars will not be replaced as often.

    Really, the only place for H2 is stationary storage for seasonal RE and maybe marine transport.

      9 months ago
    • This scientists are crazy cooking up such silly stories

        9 months ago
    • Even the Exxon scientists who warned Exxon about global warming in the 90s?

      Which is more plausible, a literal global conspiracy what includes almost everyone except you, or a conspiracy from a few oil majors that want to keep the gravy...

      Read more
        9 months ago
  • When the first oil well opened in Pennsylvania, I wonder if people said 'Well the whales are safe now'.

    When, in 1956, M. King. Hubbert formalised Peak Oil, the oil industry said 'back to burning wood then'.

    Ahmed Zaki Yamani summed this up nicely "The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil."

    Then there is the Simon-Ehrlich wager. Worth looking it up, better than me explaining it (copper futures are currently 0.68% down, if that was the $ against the £, Trump would be lynched).

    The Club of Rome got it wrong in 1972, as did Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798, both are still quoted as 'fact and proof'. This is what you are basing your assumptions on, you are wrong.

    Never understate human ingenuity.

    It was not until 1880 that we had a formal school leaving age. Prior to that many 10 years worked.

    But thinking sensibly about child labour down mines. Not a very effective method of mining. Ask anyone who had small children do he washing up on Christmas day. So a case of isolated incidences rather than systematic employment policy.

      9 months ago
  • This is what I've been saying for ages! Surely hydrogen is the answer.

      9 months ago
  • It’s hard to take articles seriously when you don’t know how to spell “nickel.”

      9 months ago
  • I knew it. You always ignore China in this kind of whining.

      9 months ago

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