For the longest while I have been asking, “Where do environmentalists and Democrats think all these batteries for our oil-free transportation fleet are going to come from?” It seems they think there is a Battery Fairy out there somewhere who will magically supply the ginormous battery capacity, and additional supply of electricity to charge them, in order to deliver us to our blessed fossil-fuel-free future.
So kudos to Wired magazine on “The Spiraling Environmental Cost of our Lithium Battery Addiction,” which reminds us that there are, you know, tradeoffs between various kinds of energy systems we might use:
Demand for lithium is increasing exponentially, and it doubled in price between 2016 and 2018. According to consultancy Cairn Energy Research Advisors, the lithium ion industry is expected to grow from 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of annual production in 2017, to almost 800 GWhs in 2027. . .
But there’s a problem. As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required to enable that transformation could become a serious issue in its own right. “One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,” says Christina Valimaki an analyst at Elsevier. . .
It’s a relatively cheap and effective process, but it uses a lot of water – approximately 500,000 gallons per tonne of lithium. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed 65 per cent of the region’s water. That is having a big impact on local farmers – who grow quinoa and herd llamas – in an area where some communities already have to get water driven in from elsewhere. . .
Two other key ingredients, cobalt and nickel, are more in danger of creating a bottleneck in the move towards electric vehicles, and at a potentially huge environmental cost. Cobalt is found in huge quantities right across the Democratic Republic of Congo and central Africa, and hardly anywhere else. The price has quadrupled in the last two years.
There’s lots more in the whole article, including the problem of disposal or recycling of used batteries.