Will Electric cars save the world?
We are living through a period of change. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said the only constant thing in the universe is change. What we have learned in the last 3,000 years is that all change has a price. Who pays the price and who gains the benefits, are questions that should be considered when evaluating any and all changes.
The change to individual transport, the freedoms of independent travel available to the majority, in wealthier nations at least, is going to affect us all. Under the broad sweep of environmentally green policies, we are seeing the whole might of profit seeking corporate enterprise, uniting with governments in order to drive consumers into electrical powered transport systems.
As with all such “initiatives,” it is claimed to be for the benefit of the population, the good of the environment, that it is being done and has nothing to do with profits, share values, and increasing taxation.
Odd, since it is tax income, company profits and share values that are benefiting so far. The taxation increases, that would normally be subjected to great scrutiny, are being supported by people blinded by claims of “green policy.”
Just how beneficial is this drive towards all electric transportation? Much of the claims being accepted–at least publicly accepted–by governments are actually opinions disguised as fact. As with the infamous “hockey-stick” climate change graph, once the opinion is exposed as questionable, it gets forgotten and others take its place. Governments support “green policies” simply and only because it gives them a “moral” purpose of increasing taxation. It allows them to raise taxes without much opposition.
Generally, the middle classes and especially the people who consider themselves “liberal” in viewpoints, support green taxes and green ambitions, but how much do they study the reality? How much do they question the opinions that are presented as facts?
Modern internal combustion powered vehicles have become reasonably reliable and have “design life periods” measured in years. They can spread the environmental damage done by their manufacturer over 20 years. Even at the end of this usable life they can mostly be recycled.
So we have to ask, are electric powered cars really better for the environment?
Electric motors are electromagnetic devices, this requires the use of metals which have a limited availability.
Electricity – until fusion power is available- requires generation which uses power, mostly from non-renewable sources. Wind, solar and wave technology produce some electricity but the demand is always going to outstrip the renewable ability to supply, going all electric transport, makes this even more certain. Press reports of information, from the British National Grid, suggest that if we all move towards electric transport; Britain will need several additional Nuclear Power stations to keep up with peak demands
The bigger concern must be Lithium – Lithium-ion batteries are used in vehicles but Lithium is also used in batteries for laptops, mobile phones, etc. Lithium is a finite source material, it is also not exactly environmentally friendly in its production.
Batteries of all types have limited “life”– the period during which they are useful. Lithium-ion batteries can be recharged, but they still slowly reduce in power; there is a limited number of times that they can be recharged. As an example, it is reported that The Tesla roadster expects to need new batteries after 100,000 miles, or 5 years.
So if world wide, 100,000,000 vehicles a year are produced using Lithium-ion batteries then after 5 years, the first batch will need new batteries. Which doubles the need for Lithium per year.
Share price check anyone?
Can the less well-off afford to buy second-hand vehicles that are going to need thousands of pounds spent on new batteries? Very few second-hand car buyers would buy a petrol engine car if they expected to have to spend $thousands on a new engine within a year.
How are lithium batteries of all types recycled? Or disposed of? It is very hard to get definitive information, just as with the start of nuclear power stations, the problems of decommissioning were left aside during the sales pitches. Have any government supported lithium battery recycling units been commissioned yet?
Trying to get some facts about the amount of lithium available and the disposal of worn out batteries is surprisingly hard; also, it seems there is a danger of these batteries exploding in certain conditions; as Mr. Hammond's crash filming “The Grand Tour”.
Have you ever wondered why a car with no petrol bursted into flames? It seems possible it was the batteries; but do not expect car-makers to say so. it's beginning to look as if the adverts and government-green-propaganda for everything to go "electric" is not all as people may wish it to be.
Data regarding the amounts of Lithium seem to be largely based on estimates, but some state that already producers are said to be limited in their ability to match demands.
Estimates say the price of Lithium carbonate was under $6 per Kilogram in 2015, but this is certain to increase; even if it did not, the projected demand for Lithium in 2018 would make that demand worth over one and a half billion dollars.
So, by the time France imposes a restriction on the production of internal combustion-only vehicles, lithium is going to be in short supply and the price will be very high; global markets will probably be worth 5 to 15 Billion dollars a year. I wonder who gets that? I will bet it's not the poor of Bolivia, etc., (where Lithium is contained in salt lakes.)
Be very careful what you wish for, be very careful to examine things labeled “green policy;” just as not all that glitters is gold, not all that is labeled “green” is for the benefit of the planet.
A great number of people are financially benefiting from the “environmental” movement and the resulting industry ( from solar power generation, wind farms, electric vehicles etc). These are the people guiding government policies by voracious lobbying and media promotions.
Many companies are researching extensively to find a lithium alternative; for example, Canadian car company Phoenix Motorcars is using lithium titanate batteries in its line of electric cars, claiming this gives a longer journey range. Still, they need the lithium, which is going to be harder and more expensive to obtain.
It is not just about lithium and future vehicles that we have to critically examine; look at solar power;
The production of these units requires several rare materials, these are already in short supply and this is only going to get worse.
Wind and even tidal generation systems rely on the movement of metal cores within coils of wire. Traditional electrical generation is basically moving a magnet within a coil of copper wire, the moving magnetic field causes an electrical current to flow in the coil. (This is the opposite of what happens in an electromagnet. An electrical current passing through a coil of copper wire which surrounds an iron core, causes the iron core to become a magnet – while the current is passing)
The Transmission of electricity requires transformers and vast amounts of cable, mostly copper-cored cable.
Making everything electric is not without problems.
There may be technical advances, such as fusion power, that will solve many problems but all things have two sides, Those who stand to make money from an “advance” are never going to tell the world about any negatives.
It is up to the consumers to educate themselves, to ask the questions, to think and ask “what happens next”. Just as with the introduction of the internal combustion engine, which brought huge benefits which were sold to everyone, very few questioned the negatives that came along with the invention.
All change has a cost. We must keep asking ourselves who pays the cost and who receives the benefits.