Let me start with the basics: the automotive industry will have to find battery suppliers or manufacture their own batteries. That will require a vast increase in mining, which may be very damaging to the environment if it is not carried on in a responsible way. Who will make sure that happens? Just remember what happened in Brumadinho and Mariana.
If you are not aware of these environmental disasters, they were massive landslides in Brazil caused by catastrophic failures in the tailings dams of the iron ore mines in these locations. The former presumably killed 270 people: there are still 11 bodies missing since 2019. The latter killed 19 people and polluted Rio Doce, a river that feeds water to 230 Brazilian cities.
Tailings dams store byproducts of mining operations after the ore is separated from the gangue (the worthless materials in a rock). These byproducts can be toxic and radioactive. The Brumadinho mine was operated by Vale, the world’s largest iron and nickel producer. Samarco, a joint venture between Vale and BHP Billiton, ran the one in Mariana.
If that happened to a massive mining company such as Vale, smaller companies should face even bigger troubles. And I have written about some of them, thanks to a Deutsche Welle documentary that is no longer online. Powder from the Chuquicamata copper mine – the world’s largest – is accused of causing lung cancer in Chile. Graphite powder provokes silicosis in Baotou, Mongolia.
These risk examples demonstrate why opening new mines may take up to 25 years, which will hinder EV adoption to the extent governments want it to occur. Saying that recycling can solve that is a mistake. As Hans Eric Melin notes, there are not enough batteries in the world to recycle. The founder of Circular Energy Storage stresses that we would need a lot more to feed all the electric cars that are supposed to replace those with combustion engines. Besides, everything that currently uses cells will need even more of them. New applications may also start demanding batteries, so mining is essential for EV adoption.
Make no mistake: this activity is crucial for practically everything in the current economic model, based on producing and selling as much as possible of everything. We may eventually wonder if this ever-increasing demand is sustainable. Earth Overshoot Day shows it is not, so anyone really concerned about the environment should dedicate themselves to finding new options. Riversimple already proposed a fascinating one: I invite you to check it out by clicking here.
Construction, agriculture, and some other activities respond to most of the carbon emissions. I’ve already seen some geniuses proposing to ban growing crops… Building an electric car emits more carbon than making a combustion-engined vehicle because of how large the battery packs are. It is easy to grasp that when you see the gigantic diesel trucks used in mining fields to retrieve everything cells need. That said, the main environmental benefit of electric cars relies on their use, which avoids emissions in densely-populated areas. This is the main reason Chinese megalopolises prefer EVs: to prevent respiratory issues in the population. However, the main burden with heavy EVs may relate to tire consumption.
Tesla owners frequently complain about how fast these vehicles need new tires. On average, they have to be changed after 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers) to 30,000 miles (48,280 km), but there are reports of owners having to replace them after 7,500 mi (12,070 km). With faster tire consumption due to performance and weight, EVs produce more tire particulate matter than lighter vehicles. Again, EVs’ excessive mass demands more careful discussions that go beyond how expensive they are. In the future, that may make personal transportation an even easier target for its regular detractors.
If it feels wrong to have 2,000-lb vehicles carrying only one person around, what about one that tips the scale at twice as much? Four times as much? Having a battery pack will not exempt it from criticism – on the contrary. People that hate cars will say that this battery pack would be better used in hundreds of electric bikes – as if they were the perfect alternative in all scenarios. This is why it is mandatory to ask: what if we are wrong about electric cars?
"He also stressed the importance of other avenues for making the green transition -- such as battery recycling and lowering consumption."— Hans Eric Melin (@hanseric) August 31, 2022
Lowering consumption, yes.
But recycling? Who is using batteries in applications today they won't need tomorrow? https://t.co/0P0BFNIalu