Electric vehicle owners tend to also be rightfully concerned about our environment and how the negative effects of climate change are ravaging our planet. Many of us think of ourselves as climate warriors, fighting on the front lines of a war to change the way our fellow humans think of consumption and how damaging the over-consumption of fossil fuels can be for all of us. We imagine a world where oil companies no longer practice fracking or drill for oil around our coastlines and vehicles no longer require gasoline to power them. As altruistic as our motives may be, we must also recognize the damage that can be done due to our choices in transportation. One of the biggest issues with electric vehicle manufacturing is securing enough of the precious metals needed to manufacture the battery that is used to make the vehicles go.
Batteries found in electric vehicles contain some of the most difficult to obtain metals on planet Earth, most notably lithium, cobalt, and manganese. According to a recent study, if we continue to manufacture electric vehicles at our current rate of growth, we will exceed the current supply by the year 2023. The study also suggested that electric vehicle manufacturers need to immediately develop new methods of securing these precious metals, including recycling them from old EV batteries. While up to approximately 95% of these metals could be recovered from recycling, most manufacturers choose not to as the process is highly expensive. The next generation of EV batteries will be lithium-sulfur batteries as opposed to lithium-ion batteries. This means that the lithium contained within the current crop of batteries can be used to power the vehicles of the future.
As wonderful as we may feel about our decisions when we own and operate vehicles and other items that have traditionally been run using gasoline but are now using electric power, we must also be aware of the negative effects of our decisions. Because the precious metals used to manufacture electric vehicle batteries are mostly mined in developing countries, workers in these countries are often not afforded the same protections as we are in Europe and the Americas. For example, most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where child labor is rampant, workers do not receive a fair wage for their toils, and safety equipment is often non-existent. While lithium mining might not be quite as exploitative, the practice is most certainly not good for the local environments. In Argentina and other South American countries, miners extract water containing lithium from deep underground reserves. This water is then placed into shallow ponds where it evaporates thereby causing this water to be undrinkable for the local population.
As previously mentioned, recycling the metals found in electric vehicle batteries would all but eliminate these problems. If the manufacturers are not willing to undertake these steps on their own, it is up to us the consumers to make it known to them that their current practices are unacceptable and that changes need to be made immediately. There is currently an excellent opportunity for any of the major electric vehicle battery manufacturers to take the lead and commit to recycling most if not all of the metals found in their old batteries. A bold move like this would certainly endear this company to anyone concerned about the environment and would serve to capture a huge portion of the electric vehicle market share, thereby offsetting any upfront costs that may be involved. I know I would jump at the chance to buy a vehicle from a company committed to recycling and I’m certainly not alone.
What do our readers think? Are you concerned with the effects of precious metal mining? Would you be more likely to buy a vehicle from a company committed to recycling the metals used in their batteries? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
(Above: children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo work in the cobalt mines)
Source | Image: mining.com
A lithium mine on the salt flats of Argentina
Source | Image: Global Press Journal