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How To Get 5 Electric Vehicles Using The Same Amount Of Lithium Currently Used In One

Based on what I have seen, I think it is safe to say most people who visit the CleanTechnica website really want an energy transformation, ending the use of fossil fuels, replacing ICE monster polluters with EVs. But there is one real problem we have to address, and it comes up over and over here and elsewhere on the internet: “Where are we going to get all the lithium we need to do that?”

The situation is such that the US DOE will award prizes for answers. (HERE) Even such experts as Elon Musk and Zach Shahan have weighed in on this. (HERE)

There are people who ask what the big fuss is, when there is more lithium in the ocean than we would ever use. Actually, the answer to that is easy. Extracting lithium from seawater is a technology that has not been developed sufficiently, is costly now, and would take long enough to develop that it would probably arrive too late to do any good in addressing carbon emissions.

The good news in all of this is that there is an answer, which is immediately available, and would save a lot of people a ton of money – each. Now I know you are asking me what the answer is, so I will give it to you instead of making you go through 40 ridiculous slides, the way other “one weird trick” come-ons do. In this case, the weird trick is super easy:

Make EVs that are specifically designed to cover the average needs of average people!

Maybe I could restate that another way:

Make super-boring EVs that just do what is needed to cover most daily needs.

Most people need to drive to the supermarket, four miles each way, and commute to work, 18 miles each way. And once in a while they take the kids to the zoo, 22 miles each way. And they need to do this charging the car by plugging in overnight – or possibly, like an Aptera, by letting the car sit in the sun, getting charged by its own solar cells.

For a hypothetical average family, the need is for a minimum range of 44 miles for most days. Double that for safe measure, and we are up to 88 miles. A horribly shabby range for person who wants a sexy car, but we are not trying to be sexy here. We are trying to be practical – and to save the Earth.

Let’s consider the specs of a real car that is currently for sale, and selling well (not currently available in the United States, where everything has to be either sexy or “normal” to sell):

  • Range for least expensive configuration: 74 miles with a 9.2-kWh battery
  • Range for most expensive configuration: 105 miles with a 13.8 kWh battery
  • Top speed: 62 miles per hour
  • Seating: 4 people
  • Storage: 26 cubic feet

Now I will admit that those specs are miserable for a person who wants a sexy car, especially compared to a Tesla Model 3, with its 50- to 80-kWh battery and a top speed that is not legal anywhere near where I live. But the specs really do fit the usual needs for the average family of two to four people. And if you want to convert the nation to EVs, you will have to convert all the cars for all the people who are average or poorer.

One problem with this is that the car is not available in the United States. Another is, even if it were, why would anyone buy such a thing?

To answer the second question first, a big reason to buy the car is the price. In China, it starts at $4,200. At the high end, it goes for $5,540. It is the Hong Guang MINI EV, which was written about at CleanTechnica a few days ago. The reason to buy the car is that it saves an average family enough money to buy a hybrid vehicle for those times that more range is needed. A wiser use of the money would be to use the money for a down payment on a nice house with a solar array, and if you ever need more range, rent a car.

Another reason to buy the Hong Guang MINI EV is that it allows four other families to buy similar EVs using the same amount of lithium that one would find in a single Tesla Model 3. That means that we can multiply the number of EVs on the road by a considerable number without increasing the amount of lithium needed.

To get back to the first question, why are these vehicles not available in the US? I doubt that they would pass safety requirements in anything like their current form.

Not having done the engineering, I would guess that the biggest problem is the top speed. I am not thinking it is too slow, however. My feeling is that it is too fast. If the Hong Guang MINI EV had its speed regulated in this country to qualify as a city car, with a top speed of 40 miles per hour, it might be almost set to pass the requirements for that class of vehicles. If not, it could be used as a template for a design that would work.

I am not going to scold Elon Musk for his focus on sexy EVs with insane power and range. He had a measure of wisdom that I certainly would not have had, and he knew that to attract people to EVs, the cars have to be presented to appeal to people’s sexual instincts rather than their minds. Having done that, Elon has been bringing the price down to the point that some rather ordinary people can afford a Tesla.

But as I said, we have to convert all the cars for all the people. If ordinary people could afford to buy a MINI Tesla, even one designed and regulated just to cover all of average needs, for under $9,000, would they do it? I would bet that they would. And could Tesla build such a vehicle? I would bet that it could – and if it doesn’t, someone else will.

With such a small battery, you could build half a dozen cars for the amount of lithium there is in one Tesla. That would push EVs a lot farther ahead, a lot faster.

And that is one weird trick – in fact, it’s extra weird, because unlike other weird tricks, it might just work.

(If you like this, you might like my earlier post, My Dream Electric Car.)

 
 
 
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Written By

A retired computer engineer, George Harvey researches and writes on energy and climate change, maintains a daily blog (geoharvey.com), and has a weekly hour-long TV show, Energy Week with George Harvey and Tom Finnell. In addition to those found at CleanTechnica, many of his articles can be found at greenenergytimes.org.

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