Oct. 8, 2020

Just how green is electric? 500,000 pounds per battery

That's for Cars. 

Canada is spending a billion dollars over the next few years retooling plants and hundreds of millions on charging stations. Of course, that is in Ontario where Governments have been pouring billions of dollars for decades . And you understand it is alright to spend such sums there but the Government has a job to find the cash when it is some more remote part of the country. 

Now we all must go electric. 

Should we not see just how green this stuff is? 

You know that these cars batteries have to use cobalt and lithium . And where is this stuff to be found ? A lot in Africa where kids are used as labourers and where the environmental regulation don't matter. So what do the chic Tesla owners say about this? Silence. What about the other elements that go to make up the battery? Many kick up a stink when new land is disrupted. How about all those new charging stations. And used batteries? 

Consider this from Mark K. Mills at the Manhattan Institute: Mines, Minerals, and ‘Green’ Energy: A Reality Check 

500,000 Pounds: Total Materials Extracted and Processed per Electric Car Battery 

A lithium EV battery weighs about 1,000 pounds.(a) While there are dozens of variations, such a battery typically contains about 25 pounds of lithium, 30 pounds of cobalt, 60 pounds of nickel, 110 pounds of graphite, 90 pounds of copper, (b) about 400 pounds of steel, aluminum, and various plastic components.(c)  

 Looking upstream at the ore grades, one can estimate the typical quantity of rock that must be extracted from the earth and processed to yield the pure minerals needed to fabricate that single battery: 

• Lithium brines typically contain less than 0.1% lithium, so that entails some 25,000 pounds of brines to get the 25 pounds of pure lithium.(d) 

• Cobalt ore grades average about 0.1%, thus nearly 30,000 pounds of ore.(e)  

• Nickel ore grades average about 1%, thus about 6,000 pounds of ore.(f) 

• Graphite ore is typically 10%, thus about 1,000 pounds per battery.(g) 

• Copper at about 0.6% in the ore, thus about 25,000 pounds of ore per battery.(h) 

In total then, acquiring just these five elements to produce the 1,000-pound EV battery requires mining about 90,000 pounds of ore. To properly account for all of the earth moved though – which is relevant to the over all environmental footprint, and mining machinery energy use—one needs to estimate the overburden, or the materials first dug up to get to the ore. Depending on ore type and location, overburden ranges from about 3 to 20 tons of earth removed to access each ton of ore. (I) 

This means that accessing about 90,000 pounds of ore requires digging and moving between 200,000 and over 1,500,000 pounds of earth—a rough average of more than 500,000 pounds per battery. The precise number will vary for different battery chemistry formulations, and because different regions have widely variable ore grades.  

It bears noting that this total material footprint does not include the large quantities of materials and chemicals used to process and refine all the various ores. Nor have we counted other materials used when compared with a conventional car, such as replacing steel with aluminum to offset the weight penalty of the battery, or the supply chain for rare earth elements used in electric motors (e.g., neodymium, dysprosium).(j) Also excluded from this tally: the related, but non-battery, electrical systems in an EV use some 300% more overall copper used compared with a conventional automobile. 

Oh, one other thing – among numerous othersA single electric car contains more cobalt than 1,000 smartphone batteries, according to Mr. Mills.