Home Uncategorised More electric cars means more destructive mining

More electric cars means more destructive mining

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Jeremy Deaton Nexus Media

Climate warriors like to imagine a future where electric cars put oil companies out of business. Firms would stop injecting known carcinogens into the ground to break up the layer of hard, shale rock hiding stores of fuel, and they would no longer plumb the ocean depths for oil, letting sticky black goo leak into the sea.

To get to that future — a future where we don’t need to dig oil out of the ground— companies will need to dig a whole lot of metal out of the ground, and that’s potentially bad news for people who work in mines or live nearby.

Like solar panels and wind turbines, electric car batteries are made from some of the most hard-to-get metals on Earth— dysprosium, neodymium, manganese, cobalt and lithium. Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers are going to need a lot more of these metals if we are to build enough electric cars to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the stated goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.

If countries took the radical action needed to meet this target — an improbably optimistic scenario — demand for cobalt and lithium would exceed the current supply by 2022 and 2023 respectively, according to a new book, “Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement,” that investigates the obstacles to preventing catastrophic climate change.

“We only mine a relatively small amount of lithium today. In 2023, we’ll be using more for batteries for EVs and storage than what we mine today,” said Elsa Dominish, a senior research consultant at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney and a co-author of the book’s chapter on metals used in clean energy. She explained that companies will need to come up with a lot more cobalt and lithium to meeting the growing demand for EVs. To limit the amount of mining that needs to be done, companies could recycle old EV batteries.

“We could recover approximately 95% of lithium from recycling with our current technologies, but usually we don’t choose to do so,” Dominish said. “Only a small amount is currently being recovered, with recyclers only recovering higher value metals such as cobalt and nickel.” As EV batteries only last around ten years, used batteries offer an abundant source of lithium. This is key, because the next generation of EV batteries will be lithium-sulphur batteries, which will use more lithium than lithium-ion batteries, the current industry standard.

Dominish and her colleagues modeled how aggressive recycling would shape demand for mined cobalt and lithium. First, they estimated how much of each metal will be needed by 2050 to stave off catastrophic climate change. Then, they gauged demand for mined cobalt and lithium if companies recycled as much of each metal as possible. Predictably, recycling would radically reduce the need for mining.

Finally, researchers projected demand for each metal if companies both recycled old batteries and embraced lithium-sulfur batteries. As shown, this would drive down demand for mined cobalt, which isn’t needed in lithium-sulfur batteries, but it would drive up demand for mined lithium.

Recycling could take a couple forms. On the one hand, firms can take old electric car batteries that can’t hold as much energy as they once did and repurpose them as home batteries that store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. One the other hand, companies can simply extract the metals from old batteries and use them to make new batteries. Firms are already doing this with cobalt, but not with lithium.

More recycling would mean less mining, and that’s good, because mining is fraught with risks. Currently, most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where individual miners, tens of thousands of whom are children, gather around 20% of the cobalt produced. These miners, known as creuseurs, might spend all day gathering cobalt by hand only to sell their haul to traders for a dollar or two.

Their job is physically taxing, and miners typically lack protective gear like gloves and masks, so they continually inhale cobalt dust, which can cause fatal lung disease. As one miner told Smnesty International, “We all have problems with our lungs, and pain all over our bodies.” Said another, a child, “There is lots of dust, it is very easy to catch colds, and we hurt all over.”

Lithium mining doesn’t have the same track record of exploitation, but it’s not without risks. On the salt flats of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, miners draw lithium-rich water from deep underground, and they pour it into shallow ponds where the water evaporates, leaving the lithium behind. In so doing, mining companies are using up groundwater that is desperately needed in the arid desert region.

Deep-sea mining offers an alternate source of both cobalt and lithium, and one that poses fewer threats to humans, but this too is risky. Ripping up the ocean floor endangers creatures that make their home on the seabed, and the noise from mining tools can wreak havoc on whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles swimming nearby.

By recycling old EV batteries, companies could limit the need for destructive mining, but recycling isn’t a cure-all. Mining firms will still need to dig up a lot of cobalt, lithium and other metals in the shift to EVs.



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21 COMMENTS

  1. Then you have all the EVs sucking the electricity to recharge their batteries as well. Better make some new power stations fast!

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    • A dam where water is the ‘battery’and storage medium are pretty environmentally friendly.
      Build once, use for 70+ years.
      Isn’t that sustainability? Mmmm.

      Seems that is too simple for many and the Red/greens opposes the building of new dams.
      The RMA introduced by National in 1991 under Soimon Upton /IRA Bolger also stops any progress.

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      • Sounds like leftie crap to me. If that was the case, every time the iceburgs melt all that water is increasing the weight on the earths crust, and the result would be more ruptured fault lines.
        Fill a glass with ice, top it up with water, leave the ice melt, and report back here what you see.

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        • A bit like the claims of environ-mental scientists over melting ice sheets causing more earthquakes et al?

          I’m trying to remember the name of the university (Colorada?) that also added in “land level” rises because sea level rises weren’t behaving as projected (linear as opposed to exponential). I’ve tried looking for it but get inundated with sea level rise hits instead.

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          • Most of NZs earthquakes cause uplift because of the plates pushing into each other.
            The 1855 earthquake created the Wellington Airport uplift that was a sea channel beforehand.
            The ‘basin’reserve was named because it was an internal port that was about to be dredged to make it a better inland port. After the earthquake it became a swamp.
            the Hutt road was ‘delivered’ at that time.
            The 1931 earthquake delivered up over half of what is now Napier including their airport.
            More in our time zone was the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake which uplifted foreshore in some places by more than 2 metres.

            this is why the Maori want to own the foreshore and seabed.
            Can you imagine the income from making the Hutt road a toll road; rental from Napier and Auckland Airports?

            This is why it was such a big issue to split from Labour.

            Sea level rise… my giddy Aunt.

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      • I’m sure 97% of unemployed scientists will go along with that if it means getting a Govt (read as sucker/taxpayer) funded job.
        Sure, i’ll agree to that.
        Where do I sign?

        Morals dont feed families.

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        • That’s certainly how Jim Salinger promoted in the late 1980s: get on board because this is where the funding will be. Yes, I heard him in person. I was horrified at his presentation back then: money not science.

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      • Lake Taupo is a natural reservoir?

        You might have heard it Melahi but I doubt that you believed it. Someone would though.

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        • Lake Taupo is a Caldera (an enormous volcano). The lake was formed when it exploded.

          “A caldera is a large cauldron-like depression that forms following the evacuation of a magma chamber/reservoir. When large volumes of magma are erupted over a short time, structural support for the crust above the magma chamber is lost.”
          – Wikipedia

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          • Next time you drive north towards Turangi, about 15 ks south, you start a decline. That’s the southern edge of the Taupo Caldera. When you go to Napier the road rises up to the same level and distance.
            Scary to think the whole lake is just waiting to erupt some time in the future.

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  2. With environ-mentalists it’s all about the “feelz”. Facts are irrelevant. Environ-mentalism is basically the new (State) religion but without any form of redemption.

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      • It’s long since begun. The latest public condemnation been dubbed the Vox Adpocalypse; with Leftard, Carlos Maza, from Vox upset that he was called by his description from places like his Twitter account by Steven Crowder. Even though YouTube couldn’t fault Crowder, he was punished for using Maza’s own description of himself. As well as numerous other channels.

        Not that this instance is even the remotest bit unique. The un-personing of “deplorables” goes on all the time these days. Shockingly, it has even moved into the banking industry this unpersoning.

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