Not that they’re going soft on us, but Fox News.com recently featured an article on low-cost electric vehicle technology, and it’s just the kind of news we like to see here at CleanTechnica: good news about emerging clean technology that could break through the affordability barrier.
The article profiled a company called Simbol Materials, which is working on a low-cost lithium production process that could cut the retail price of electric vehicles down to the bone. But that’s not even the part that caught our attention….
We Built This!
The article provides a good rundown of Simbol’s low-cost process for extracting lithium from saltwater, which could then be used to lower the cost of batteries for electric vehicles.
But here’s what caught our eye: beyond giving Simbol credit for starting up a promising cleantech project, the article also takes care to credit the taxpayer-funded facilities where the process was developed, right up front in the second paragraph:
“The salt water extraction process was originally conceived at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) with funds from a state grant, while Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago adapted it to be used with geothermal fluids.”
Coming from the same news company that pushed the “you didn’t build that” meme against President Obama all summer, that’s a pretty striking display of “fair and balanced” reporting on the relationship between public support and private initiative in modern democratic governance.
Fox News has also been credited with leading the hysteria-tinged conservative pushback against electric vehicles, but the article doesn’t touch on that angle. It simply makes a clear, concise case for how the Simbol project would lead directly to cheaper EVs like GM’s Chevy Volt and Ford Focus Electric.
From the Laboratory to Low-Cost Electric Vehicles
LLNL and Argonne are both part of the Department of Energy’s extensive research network, which works hand in glove with the private sector to spin off new technologies into commercial production, otherwise known as technology transfer.
Back in 2009, LLNL won three prestigious awards for technology transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium, and one of them involved the new low-cost lithium extraction process that Simbol will put into play.
According to LLNL, the process was initially developed in aid of the geothermal industry. The aim was to find an efficient way to remove silica from geothermal brines, which otherwise clogs pipes, filters, and other equipment at geothermal plants.
The process achieves a sustainability twofer by enabling geothermal plants to run more efficiently while transforming a waste disposal problem (spent brine) into valuable products, including lithium, manganese, zinc, silica, and tungsten.
Fair and Balanced Reporting on Clean Technology
The FoxNews.com article hits numerous positive notes on the new process, concluding that “if producers like Simbol are successful, the price of EVs could drop dramatically.”
However, the article does make clear that’s a pretty big “if.” Simbol’s proposed lithium extraction plant is for a geothermal operation at the Salton Sea, which has a particularly high concentration of minerals. It’s not clear that the process would be cost-effective at other locations.
Fair enough. If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve probably noticed that our writers routinely issue the same type of caveats.
Meanwhile, it’s worth nothing that, from laboratory to commercialization, the whole project fits neatly into President Obama’s strategy for boosting domestic lithium production and reducing the reliance of important domestic industries on imported minerals, including the defense sector, as well as the cleantech sector.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.