Updated: May 4, 2020
You probably already know that not using/owning a car is the most eco-friendly option. However, the reality is that not owning a car is always a solution, for example, if your job demands it or if you or close relatives/friends don’t have public transport close by. An electric car seems like a good solution or is it? Read here about the environmental impact that an electric car has.
The production of batteries for your electric car is not as green as you might hope. Electric cars require a large lithium-ion battery as its energy source. Lithium-ion batteries are chosen as these are very energy efficient however, they are not very environmentally friendly to produce. The indigenous communities living near lithium mines in Chili and Argentina are not properly informed about mining projects on their lands. They are given insufficient information about the potential impacts it may have on their water sources as mining lithium is very water-intensive. The Andes mountains are very dry land area, but the extraction process of lithium requires water 500,000 gallons of water per ton of lithium.
In some other regions in Chile, 65 percent of the available water is used up in the production of lithium. The lithium brine then requires 12 to 18 months to evaporate. Any water returned to the farmers (that use the water for the countries food production) could be tainted with chemicals. This lengthy evaporation process of the lithium brine can be sped up by heating the water resulting in faster evaporation. However, this process requires the burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, with increasing demand, the desire for faster and cheaper production of lithium may outweigh the environmental impacts.
Human right violations
The batteries for electric cars require, next to the previously discussed lithium, cobalt. Cobalt, which was traditionally mined as a by-product of nickel and copper and nickel, is now up in demand against a limited supply. Most cobalt mines can be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to UNICEF, in 2014 about 40.000 children were working in mines across the DRC. Next to child and slave labor, people are exposed to toxic waste leakage and radioactivity in the cobalt mins.
The impact on the environment, unethical mining conditions and the impossibility of recycling of lithium-ion batteries are the reasons why I don’t have an electric car yet. I firmly believe that there will better alternatives for either the lithium-ion battery or the electric car in general. I just have to be patient.
Even though it is claimed that lithium-ion batteries can be 95% recyclable, the reality is, it is more easily said than done. Lithium-ion batteries undergo irreversible changes during their lifespan. Meaning that they can’t be recycled anymore but they need to be completely taken apart, the lithium extracted, and then re-manufactured. This isn’t a simple process. Battery manufacturers incorporate several chemicals into the battery to speed up the manufacturing process or increase durability. These used chemicals different per company and are company secret making it difficult (labor-intensive) and therefore expensive to repurpose. Moreover, this chemical mixture has been known to explode when handled incorrectly. Because of these difficulties, only 2% of the lithium batteries (in general, not only cars) are recycled while the rest ends up in landfills.
The impact on the environment, unethical mining conditions and the impossibility of recycling of lithium-ion battery are the reasons why I don’t have an electric car yet. I firmly believe that there will better alternatives for either the lithium-ion battery or the electric car in general. I just have to be patient.