Westward Independent

Electrification of all vehicles, is it actually possible?

by Westward Independent
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In December 2022, Justin Trudeau’s government announced that 100% of all new vehicles sold in Canada by 2035 must be zero-emission electric vehicles, and Joe Biden’s government introduced the Inflation Reduction Act, which set the same requirement. Sounds good, right? It’ll help save the planet from climate catastrophe. And we can do this, right? Well… no.

Here’s the problem: electric vehicles require a substantial amount of critical elements to, not only build the cars, but the batteries too. In fact, on average, an electric vehicle requires 145lbs of graphite, 88lbs of nickel, 30lbs of cobalt, 20lbs of lithium, 115lbs of copper (3x to 5x times as much as its internal-combustion engine (ICE) counterpart) and 50lbs of manganese (2x to 3x as much as an ICE). An ICE does not generally contain graphite, nickel, cobalt or lithium in its manufacture.(1)

A recent study from the University of Michigan(2) was very clear – there isn’t enough known copper in the world to electrify the USA, let alone the rest of the world. “A normal (ICE) Honda Accord needs about 40 pounds of copper. The same battery electric Honda Accord needs almost 200 pounds of copper,” said Adam Simon, University of Michigan professor of earth and environmental studies. Of course, there is still the need for copper in many other products and industries, including other renewable energy products like wind turbines. Simon continued, “Onshore wind turbines require about 10 tons of copper, and in offshore wind turbines, that amount can more than double.”

The study examined 120 years of global data from copper mining companies and calculated how much copper the U.S. electricity infrastructure and fleet of cars would need to upgrade to renewable energy. It found that renewable energy’s copper needs would outstrip what copper mines can produce at the current rate. “We show in the paper that the amount of copper needed is essentially impossible for mining companies to produce.”

The researchers found that between 2018 and 2050, the world will need to mine 115% more copper than has been mined in all of human history, just to meet “business as usual” copper needs, including equitable global development (third-world countries bringing on energy projects, requiring substantial copper for their development & delivery of energy), without considering the green energy transition. In fact, a 55% increase in copper mines would need to be opened in order to meet the worldwide need for copper. On average, in the U.S., it takes 20 years to get a new copper mine opened from a viable find through to initial production, due to regulatory and environmental requirements.

The study focused solely on copper mining. What wasn’t mentioned in this study is the sourcing and mining of all the other critical elements. In fact, the World Bank’s report on the mineral intensity of the clean energy transition states, “production of graphite, lithium, and cobalt will need to be significantly ramped up by more than 450 percent by 2050—from 2018 levels—to meet demand from energy storage technologies.“(3) In fact, their own footnote to that statement says, “These projections may be conservative and will most likely be larger in a 1.50C-degree scenario, which demands solutions to be implemented faster, and at a larger scale.” Translation: Highly unlikely, especially as significantly higher demand will increase the costs of materials and mining across the board, and make sourcing of materials even more difficult.

So where does that leave us? Is this green transition to electrifying our vehicles dead in the water? Maybe not. Some major manufacturers, like Toyota, are taking a dim view on fully battery electric vehicles, and instead focusing on plug-in hybrids or regular hybrids. In a recent leaked confidential internal email, Toyota showed that the amount of raw materials required for one battery electric vehicle could be used to manufacture six plug-in hybrids or ninety regular hybrids; what Toyota calls the “1:6:90 Rule”. As reported by Yahoo! Autos: “Essentially what Toyota is saying here is that sourcing the materials for batteries is going to dramatically increase and therefore the costs and difficulty of getting those materials will subsequently rise. The automaker’s position is that those materials can be turned into a lot more hybrids at more affordable price points versus PHEV and EV models. Toyota also makes the point that the charging infrastructure in the U.S. right now still has a long way to go before it can handle a proliferation of full EV models on the roadways. The other hurdle for most Americans is that EVs and PHEVs can be expensive compared to their gas or hybrid counterparts. Now that the Inflation Reduction Act has eliminated a substantial chunk of EV/PHEV vehicles that qualify for the tax credit, dealers and automakers are reporting a reduced interest in those vehicles.”(4)

So the short answer is, no, Justin and Joe, your green transition to fully battery electric vehicles isn’t possible, currently. Could it be, in the future, if we permit hundreds of new mines and source more minerals? Potentially. But that’s a big bet with huge risk, and no certain outcome. Is that something we want our governments to do? Unlikely.

Rod R. Slater, North Cowichan

(1) https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/minerals-used-in-electric-cars-compared-to-conventional-cars

(2) https://news.umich.edu/copper-cant-be-mined-fast-enough-to-electrify-the-us/

(3) https://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/961711588875536384/Minerals-for-Climate-Action-The-Mineral-Intensity-of-the-Clean-Energy-Transition.pdf

(4) https://autos.yahoo.com/why-toyota-isnt-rushing-sell-154000759.html

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