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  • Writer's pictureWayne Drury

Global Warming & the underbelly of EV's and the batteries

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Passenger cars emit 39% of the Green House Gases (GHG) of the total transportation sector world- wide (1) I do not profess to be an expert; however, it would seem that reducing GHG emissions by converting to other less polluting methods of transportation is something that we should all want. But, wait a minute. What about all the impacts of building the underbelly of electric vehicles, and all those batteries? To run, EVs require six times the mineral input, by weight, of conventional vehicles. Where will those minerals come from and at what environmental, social and human cost.

These minerals, including cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese, are not infinite. Extracting, transporting and manufacturing can exact some pretty heavy social, human and environmental costs.

We are all told of the significant benefits of EV's on the environment, and who am I to argue - but it does raise some thoughts and I am not here to try to convince you one way or otherwise; I am only wanting us to make sure we do this right. I see our job as making honest people out of our politicians and holding the great morass of environmental business practices in check.

(1) The Washington Post (April 27, 2023). "The Underbelly of Electric Cars."

We get one shot at this - and we cannot end up similar to the 5% impact on recycling, when we all "think it is 100%. A fool and his planet will soon be departed. This issue cannot be out of sight, out of mind - we have to know what the potential impacts will be, and how to best manage the issue so it is good for the people, good for the planet and good for the economy. I for one do not want to live off the backs of children, or destroy the environment in some place I have never seen, or by leaving indigenous peoples in the squalor many of them face just to survive.

What is Under the Floorboards?

Underneath the floorboards of that EV, is an approximately 900-pound battery block containing materials that have been mined from various locations around the world and put through complex chemical processes that add negative impacts to owning an EV. The question is; "how much?"

“If you are going to take a look at any source of energy, you always will have some trade-offs,” said Sergey Paltsev, a senior research scientist at MIT. “There is no magic bullet." Can anyone tell us what is the real environmental cost?

To bring all this into perspective, you may want to read the article "Quest for coveted EV Battery metals yields misery in Guinea." "Across Bok, thousands of villagers are paying a steep price ... The Guinean government has reported that hundreds of square miles once used for farming have been acquired by mining companies for their operations and associated roads, railways and ports. Villagers have received little or no compensation ...

In the next two decades, according to a government study, more than 200,000 acres of farmland and 1.1 million acres of natural habitat will be destroyed by bauxite mining — an area almost the size of Delaware."

Then there is the Supply Chain

How does this affect the environmental impact of going full out on EV’s?

Taking the minerals out of the ground is the first step. The ore needs to be refined to become the materials that go into the batteries. More environmental impact that we to take into account and no matter where this takes place, we cannot consider it "out of sight, out of mind." We get one chance at this and we have to do it right.

Lots to think about and consider if we are going to get this right. The year 2050 is coming quickly and 2030 is coming even faster. It may be “cool” to drive that EV down the road; you may be able to convince yourself you are caring for the environment – but is that the reality with what it will take to provide all the metals for those EV batteries under the floorboards?

Time for “sage discussion”.

Best wishes from all of us at Sustainable Circular Economy where we do not have all the answers, but have lots of questions. Questions that we hope will generate thoughtful dialogue to living a better quality of life where we manage issues through the lens of a circular economy; good for the people, the planet and profitability.

About this Story - Clean cars, hidden toll

This story is an abridged version of a detailed story done by the Washington Post. As the global demand for electric cars begins to outpace the demand for gas-powered cars, Washington Post reporters set out to investigate the unintended consequences of a global EV boom. This story explores a snapshot of securing the minerals needed to build and power electric vehicles on local communities, workers and the environment.

Design and development by Irfan Uraizee. Graphics by Hannah Dormido and Aaron Steckelberg. Data analysis by Steven Rich. Research by Cate Brown.

Editing by Reem Akkad, Manuel Canales, Courtney Kan, Vanessa H. Larson, Martha Murdock and Alan Sipress.

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