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

A typical lithium car battery weighing about 450 kilograms contains about 11 kilograms of lithium, nearly 14 kilograms of cobalt, 27 kilograms of nickel, more than 40 kilograms of copper, and 50 kilograms of graphite—as well as about 181 kilograms of steel, aluminum, and plastics. Supplying these materials for a single vehicle requires processing about 40 tons of ores, and given the low concentration of many elements in their ores it necessitates extracting and processing about 225 tons of raw materials. And aggressive electrification of road transport would soon require multiplying these needs by tens of millions of units per year! May 12, 2022

South America’s “lithium fields” reveal the dark side of our electric future. Lithium extraction fields in South America have been captured by an aerial photographer in stunning high definition.
Lithium represents a route out of our reliance on fossil fuel production. As the lightest known metal on the planet, it is now widely used in electric devices from mobile phones and laptops, to cars and aircraft.
Lithium-ion batteries are most famous for powering electric vehicles, which are set to account for up to 60 per cent of new car sales by 2030. The battery of a Tesla Model S, for example, uses around 12 kg of lithium.”  February 2, 2022

“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

Tesla is getting into the mining business, buys lithium claim on 10,000 acres in Nevada. September 23, 2020

“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

Hundreds stop traffic in Serbia in protest of government approval of a lithium mine in western Serbia by international mining firm Rio Tinto, a project protesters have decried because it could pollute local waterways and harm air quality. November 27, 2021

The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction.
In May 2016, hundreds of protestors threw dead fish onto the streets of Tagong, a town on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. They had plucked them from the waters of the Liqi river, where a toxic chemical leak from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine had wreaked havoc with the local ecosystem.
There are pictures of masses of dead fish on the surface of the stream. Some eyewitnesses reported seeing cow and yak carcasses floating downstream, dead from drinking contaminated water. It was the third such incident in the space of seven years in an area which has seen a sharp rise in mining activity, including operations run by BYD, the world’s biggest supplier of lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric cars. After the second incident, in 2013, officials closed the mine, but when it reopened in April 2016, the fish started dying again. May 5, 2018

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.

Jane Stephens: we simply have to stop our enduring reliance on cars. There is no way around it: if more than 200,000 additional residents move here in the next 20 years—blowing us out to 518,000 residents—we are going to have higher-density housing and more of us will be trying to get to work, school, the shops, beaches and mountains.
Predictions are that at the current rate, the Sunshine Coast [Queensland] will have an extra 165,000 cars on its roads each day by 2041. We have the second-highest rate of private car ownership per capita of any local government area in Australia. Studies have shown that three quarters of current car trips are less than 10km – the kind that could be done by bus or tram if we had a reliable, regular system. Or walking and biking if improved paths would allow them.
We simply have to stop our enduring reliance on cars. I can’t help but think that we have a prevalence for transport snobbery on the Sunshine Coast. May 2, 2021

Never mind going electric, where will we park? While exhaust emissions might fall, the so-called “embedded emissions” needed to build, charge and maintain this army of cars will increase with growing car ownership.
Congestion and traffic jams come down to one simple fact—cars are space-inefficient. They take up seven times the space of a bike but usually carry only up to five people. Often this number is much lower—and that’s only when they’re moving. In June, the RAC Foundation published a report that revealed cars are empty and parked 23 hours out of every 24. And there aren’t enough car parking spaces to go round.
“If you build more roads you get more traffic. When we build a new road, journeys get a bit faster because there’s a little bit more capacity. But drivers then realise this road is faster and it fills up with more traffic—undermining any benefits of the original intervention,” he adds. In June, the Welsh government suspended future road-building, saying it was essential to “shift away from spending money on projects that encourage more people to drive.” Running electric cars will be cheap. The costs of charging them at home will be a fraction of the price of a full tank of petrol. And, after spending thousands on a vehicle marketed as ethical and clean, drivers will understandably want to actually drive them.
“That could potentially drive a real avalanche of e-congestion and e-traffic onto the network.” Electric vehicles should be secondary, she says, and the government should be investing far more in space-efficient transport modes—public transport, walking and cycling. She points out that 58% of UK car trips are less than five miles so there is huge potential for reducing motor traffic.
In July, the Department for Transport reiterated the UK’s £2bn commitment to active travel over five years, but Ms Marstrand-Taussig says this is not enough.
“It does seem a bit bonkers that we’re looking at £27bn for new roads, when we need £6bn for walking and cycling over the term of this parliament.” August 18, 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.

“The EV revolution. How green is your electric vehicle? Visual Storytelling Team in London” produced a slide show for The Financial Times, taking viewers through the process of creating and using an electric car. It uses CO2 emissions as the standard measurement of impact, ignoring other environmental impacts. Projections of future demand for materials and for sources of renewable energy are made into 2050. October 4, 2021.

Other considerations

Promoting EVs shifts funds away from transit and active transportation:

Transportation commission chair says Oregon should spend more to entice e-car buyers “We’re not moving the mode split that quickly on transit, so we’re not reducing congestion, and we’re not reducing carbon… I think there is a chance to see a more dramatic move by people with cars.” April 4, 2022

Roadkill:

365 Million Animals Killed On US Roads Yearly: Famous Wolf Latest Victim
...humanity’s expanding encroachment means a lot of animals become roadkill on the roads and highways... mostly hit by cars. Unfortunately, this was the sad fate of a very famous far-ranging gray wolf in Southern California, via Oregon.

Politcal violence:

Avo Morales, elected president of Boliva was ousted in a coup, most likely for access to the nation’s lithium. Elon Musk, whose electric cars need lithium, tweeted “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” in July 2020.


Are Electric Cars the Solution? Or do visions of ‘clean’ robots supplying mobile freedom steer us down the wrong road?
Andrew Nikiforuk, an editor at The Tyee, thoroughly analyses electric cars and includes alternatives. 25 Jan 2022


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