Electric Cars

This page contains a collection of articles about the proposed shift from internal combustion engines to electrically powered vehicles. The main problem with electric cars is that they are still cars. Electric buses and trains reduce car traffic and the necessary infrastructure, but as long as demand increases with our 80 million per year population growth, alternative technology won’t make enough of a difference.

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Acquiring the materials

“The transition to a new energy system is often understood as a conflict between incumbent fossil fuel firms and proponents of climate action. Underneath the Atacama salt flat lies most of the world’s lithium reserves; Chile currently supplies almost a quarter of the global market. But extracting lithium from this unique landscape comes at a grave environmental and social cost.” June 14, 2021

“Mineral supplies for electric cars ‘must increase 30-fold’ to meet climate goals. At least 30 times as much lithium, nickel and other key minerals may be required by the electric car industry by 2040 to meet global climate targets, according to the International Energy Agency.” May 5, 2021

“Inside the Lithium Mining War That Could Poison the Nevada Desert’s Water. A mining giant wants to extract lithium from the Nevada desert to power electric cars. But a more sustainable future doesn’t come without costs.” March 5, 2021

“The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction. As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required could become a major issue in its own right.” August 5, 2018

“Billionaire-backed mining firm to seek electric vehicle metals in Greenland. Mineral exploration company KoBold Metals, backed by billionaires including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, has signed an agreement with London-listed Bluejay Mining to search in Greenland for critical materials used in electric vehicles.” August 10, 2021

“The curse of ‘white oil’: electric vehicles’ dirty secret. The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale.” December 8, 2020

“To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018.
“There are serious implications for the electrical power generation in the UK needed to recharge these vehicles. Using figures published for current EVs driving 252.5 billion miles uses at least 63 TWh of power. This will demand a 20% increase in UK generated electricity.
“Challenges of using ‘green energy’ to power electric cars: If wind farms are chosen to generate the power for the projected two billion cars at UK average usage, this requires the equivalent of a further years’ worth of total global copper supply and 10 years’ worth of global neodymium and dysprosium production to build the windfarms. “Solar power is also problematic—it is also resource hungry; all the photovoltaic systems currently on the market are reliant on one or more raw materials classed as “critical” or “near critical”...because of their natural scarcity or their recovery as minor-by-products of other commodities. With a capacity factor of only ~10%, the UK would require ~72GW of photovoltaic input to fuel the EV fleet; over five times the current installed capacity. If CdTe-type photovoltaic power is used, that would consume over thirty years of current annual tellurium supply.
“Both these wind turbine and solar generation options for the added electrical power generation capacity have substantial demands for steel, aluminium, cement and glass.” There may, just, be enough energy and raw resources to allow a British green new deal; but only so long as the rest of the world is prepared to collapse into abject poverty as a consequence.” March 5, 2020

Land Use

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“Cramming cities full of electric vehicles means we’re still depending on cars—and that’s a huge problem. The huge amount of space devoted to car driving and parking in our neighbourhoods can crowd out other forms of land use, including other more sustainable forms of mobility such as walking and cycling.” June 24, 2021

“Achieving Climate Targets Requires Looking Beyond the Tailpipe. ...even when the electricity grid is 100 percent clean and the last internal combustion engine is finally retired, highways will continue to enable sprawling development. Today, more than a football field’s worth of America’s natural areas is lost to development every 30 seconds. This pace is recklessly unsustainable. Federal transportation policy should support greater density and infill development as well as alternatives to driving to meet daily mobility needs.” February 11, 2021

“If we really wanted to save the planet, we would stop building roads. The additional carbon dioxide emissions generated by road building and increased traffic on the new roads is well-documented by scientists. ...government and the majority of councils reject non-road building ways of solving transport problems. “If ...we really were committed to net zero carbon by 2050 we would cancel road building and switch all the funding to world-best joined up thinking about transport.” January 25, 2021.

Emissions and pollution

“New study finds endangered coho salmon are dying due to car tire chemical. A highly toxic chemical used in the production of millions of tires every year is killing salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and it is being detected in streams across Northern California, a new study finds. The new study... has identified a culprit chemical for the first time—a commonly used preservative called 6PPD used to give tires longer life.” December 6, 2020

“Emissions from asphalt are a significant source of air pollutants in cities, especially in hot weather. Researchers found that when asphalt was exposed to hot summer conditions it resulted in a 300% increase in emissions of secondary organic aerosols, an air pollutant known to have significant impacts on public health.
“A main finding is that asphalt-related products emit substantial and diverse mixtures of organic compounds into the air, with a strong dependence on temperature and other environmental conditions... Paved areas make up approximately 45% of surfaces in US cities, with building roofs making up another 20%, making asphalt a significant part of the urban landscape.
  “With heavier and heavier vehicles, the combined total of particle pollution from road surface, brake and tyre wear is now greater than the particle emissions from vehicle exhaust but there are no policies to control this,” he added. September 2, 2020

“Environmentally, these vehicles offer an improvement over gas-powered cars (but not [over] public or active transit). Even so, 85 to 90 percent of toxic vehicle emissions in traffic come from tire wear and other non-tailpipe sources, which electric and hybrid cars still produce. They also still contribute to traffic, and can still kill or maim the people they hit.” July 9, 2019

“Road plans will scupper CO2 targets, report says... 80% of the CO2 savings from clean cars will be negated by the £27 billion planned roads programme. It adds that if ministers want a “green recovery” the cash would be better spent on public transport, walking, cycling, and remote-working hubs... electric cars will continue to increase local air pollution through  particles eroding from brakes and tyres”. July 10, 2020

“A 2017 study estimated that tyre wear-and-tear accounts for between 5% and 10% of microplastics entering our oceans each year. Another estimate from International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources puts this figure at about 28%.
“The UK and governments around the world plan to clean up exhausts and eventually to abolish combustion engines all together, but as Hicks explained, “pollution from brakes, tyres and road surfaces are here to stay”. Less and slower traffic may be one solution, along with lighter vehicles.” March 26, 2021

“Millions of electric cars are coming. What happens to all the dead batteries? The battery pack of a Tesla Model S is a feat of intricate engineering. Thousands of cylindrical cells with components sourced from around the world transform lithium and electrons into enough energy to propel the car hundreds of kilometers, again and again, without tailpipe emissions. But when the battery comes to the end of its life, its green benefits fade. If it ends up in a landfill, its cells can release problematic toxins, including heavy metals. And recycling the battery can be a hazardous business... Cut too deep into a Tesla cell, or in the wrong place, and it can short-circuit, combust, and release toxic fumes.” May 20, 2021

Sarah DeWeerdt explains “Why newer cars aren’t always better for the climate. Waiting longer to buy a new car and keeping existing cars on the road longer overall could substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions. A few past studies have also shown that faster replacement of less-efficient with more-efficient cars actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. But those studies essentially assumed that a car was scrapped as soon as its first owner replaced it. The new study is the first to take into account the used car market in combination with the inherent limits to a car’s physical lifespan.” October 12, 2021.


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