Electric Car Haters Go On The Attack

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The stunning stupidity of electric car haters is on full display this week. CleanTechnica readers, being far superior in intelligence, will immediately understand where the vitriol and scare tactics are coming from. You only need to identify who will be hurt most by the Biden administrations electric car push to figure out who is responsible.

Here’s a piece that ran in the Washington Post this week entitled The Underbelly Of Electric Cars. The article uses an assortment of graphics that look suspiciously like a Tesla Model 3 sedan to reveal to the world that lurking beneath every electric car is box full of dangerous chemicals called a battery. Oh, the horror!

Electric Car Materials

The story begins with this statement:

“While electric vehicles are essential to reducing carbon emissions, their production can exact a significant human and environmental cost. To run, EVs require six times the mineral input, by weight, of conventional vehicles. These minerals, including cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese, are finite resources. And mining and processing them can be harmful for workers, their communities and the local environment.

“Your EV might look like a normal sedan or SUV from the outside. But underneath the floor of your car is an approximately 900-pound battery block containing materials that have been mined from the ground, sent around the world and put through complex chemical processing to fuel your ride from point A to point B.

“One of the most common batteries on the road, the NMC, used by companies including Volkswagen, Mercedes and Nissan, contains significant amounts of aluminum, nickel, cobalt, manganese and lithium. But while batteries may vary in composition, they generally rely on the same set of materials.”

The story goes on to identify those minerals as bauxite, nickel, manganese, lithium, and cobalt. Bauxite, for those who don’t know, is the source of aluminum. The Washington Post has never said boo about the environmental harm caused by aluminum, but when it comes to electric car batteries, suddenly the sky is falling and we must run and tell the king! And what we should we tell the monarch when we get there?

“Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, sits on Earth’s largest bauxite reserves. By 2030, demand for aluminum will jump nearly 40 percent, to 119 million tons annually, industry analysts say. But the boom is taking a toll on the people who live on the land. Guinea’s government says hundreds of square miles once used for farming have been acquired by mining companies for their operations and associated roads, railways and ports. Villagers have received little or no compensation, locals and rights activists say.” And all because of those dastardly electric cars!

With respect to nickel, the Post gleefully announces that in Indonesia, which is promoting nickel mining to meet the need for electric car batteries and create a local economy that benefits its citizens, “local communities are fearful of the effects of extraction and processing on their environment.” When it comes to mining manganese, “Workers in these mines say they have experienced memory loss, slurred speech and other physical impairments tied to ingesting the mineral’s fine dust.”

In South America, the quest for lithium “threatens to exhaust the region’s limited water supply, displacing Indigenous communities and disrupting the fragile ecology.” The Post saves its worst condemnation for cobalt, whose impacts on the health of workers is well known and is indeed a matter of great concern, one that is not to be taken lightly.

The Truth & The Washington Post

electric car
All-electric car in Costa Rica, Image courtesy of Mario Duran Ortiz

The Post article is filled with glitzy graphics. In fact, most to the people who contributed to the article are graphic designers who are getting paid to showcase their skills, which really are quite remarkable. They help the Post establish itself as a leader in the era of digital publishing. But is it journalism? Let’s take a closer look.

According to Wikipedia, the primary uses of aluminum are:

  • Transportation — automobiles, aircraft, trucks, railway cars, marine vessels, bicycles, and spacecraft
  • Packaging — cans, foil, and frames
  • Building and construction — windows, doors, siding, building wire, sheathing, roofing, etc.
  • Electricity-related uses — conductor alloys, motors, generators, transformers, and capacitors
  • Household items — cooking utensils to furniture.
  • Machinery and equipment — processing equipment, pipes, and tools
  • Portable computer cases.

Do you see the Washington Post warning of the dangers of mining bauxite for the Ford F-150 or airplanes? To be consistent, an actual journalist would.

According to Wikipedia, the “global use of nickel is currently 68% in stainless steel, 10% in nonferrous alloys, 9% electroplating, 7% alloy steel, 3% foundries, and 4% other (including batteries).” Gosh, 68% of nickel is used to make stainless steel. The intrepid “journalists” at the Washington Post don’t mention that. Will the use of nickel in electric car batteries increase as more EVs come to market? Yup. Is that a cause for alarm? Nope.

What about that scary manganese? A cursory search of the internet reveals it is “essential to iron and steel production by virtue of its sulfur-fixing, deoxidizing, and alloying properties. It is also widely used in the production of aluminum and is widely used in fertilizers and electronics.” Do you see any mention of that in the Washington Post article?

Lithium has many industrial uses, primarily in glass making. And of course it is a major component of rechargeable batteries, some of which are used to power telecommunications and laptop computers. But the Post only mentions electric car batteries, a distortion that runs throughout the story.

The Washington Post saves the best for last. Its assault on cobalt is unrelenting. And yet, once again, a simple internet search reveals that cobalt is used in a variety of common commercial products. According to the US Geological Survey, “Cobalt is also used to make airbags in automobiles; catalysts for the petroleum and chemical industries; cemented carbides (also called hardmetals) and diamond tools; corrosion- and wear-resistant alloys; drying agents for paints, varnishes, and inks; dyes and pigments; ground coats for porcelain enamels; high-speed steels; magnetic recording media; magnets; and steel-belted radial tires.” See any of those uses mentioned in the Post article?

According to the Cobalt Institute, “Cobalt plays a vital role in catalysing the removal of sulphur from oil, contributing to a more sustainable society. Desulphurisation is the process by which sulfur is removed from oil. A significant use of cobalt globally is as part of catalysts in this desulfurization process. ” What, what? Little children are being forced to mine cobalt so people can drive their cars and trucks? That’s unbelievable! Somebody should have told us. And in fact, the graphics designers at WaPo could have with about two minutes of computer time, but they were too busy high-fiving each other about their digital design prowess to concentrate on their first obligation — journalism.

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The Takeaway

No one is suggesting that an electric car is made solely from sunshine and pixie dust. Every industrial process has environmental impacts. But to suggest that EV batteries alone are responsible for pollution from aluminum, nickel, manganese, lithium, and cobalt is not just bad reporting, it’s irresponsible and it makes us wonder who paid the Post to dream up this EV hit piece in the first place.

The battery manufacturers and EV makers are doing more than any industries in history to create a circular economy where battery components and the materials used to manufacture vehicles get recycled over and over again to make new products. You can’t recycle oil and methane and coal unless you are willing to wait millions of years. In addition, the science is clear — electric cars have 50% lower lifetime emissions than gasoline-powered cars. Why is this information not included in the article?

The Post steadfastly refuses to mention the crushing burden that extracting, transporting, refining, distributing, and burning fossil fuels places on the environment. Slanted articles like this have no place in a publication that purports to be a news organization. Such deliberately one-sided diatribes are the hallmark of Faux News. The Post should be embarrassed by this misleading and poorly researched junk reporting.

I am a subscriber to the Washington Post and rely on it to give me accurate information about what is happening in the world. But here’s a caveat. Subscribers can easily become former subscribers. Garbage reporting like this makes me question why I support the Washington Post at all. A retraction might convince me to stay on, but I am not holding my breath. Perhaps the most I can do is call them out and expose their sins of omission so other readers have all the facts they need to make informed decisions — something real journalists strive to do every day.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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