In 2008 Tesla Inc started production of its electric roadster ostensibly starting the movement to electric vehicles and changing forever the way we, the human race, move about our planet. Is this a good idea or not such a good idea? Let’s look at many of the pluses and minuses of this movement in an attempt to help answer that question.
There are a lot of pluses starting with zero emissions. By 2035 the state of California requires all new vehicles sold to be emission-free. The EU is also trying to move to emission-free vehicles within the same period but are finding it difficult, mainly because of electricity generation problems.
Also in the plus column, EV’s have very few moving parts such as the electric motor. By comparison, internal combustion engines have hundreds of moving parts that need regular maintenance.
But there are much larger problems with EV’S that need to be addressed starting with the batteries. Yes, they can be replaced but at what cost? Currently, EV batteries are so expensive, it’s cheaper to buy a new vehicle than replace them. And, for some reason, vehicle range hasn’t gotten better than 450 km to 500 max km (350 to 400 miles).
Even though options are available, manufacturers continue to use lithium battery packs that are prone to overheating and sometimes start on fire. Lithium battery fires are not easy to put out since they burn very hot.
This is why airlines do not allow lithium batteries in the luggage compartment of flights. In fact, EV battery packs haven’t changed since 2008 – they still look like a few hundred D cell batteries all hooked together.
Why no advances, you ask?
According to greencarcongress.com, since 2016 Idemitsu continues to hold the patents for metallic material for solid-state batteries and Toyota holds several hundred solid-state battery patents. Meanwhile, Samsung and LG Chem hold even more.
Solid state batteries would at least double the distance one could travel on a single charge making a trip to Toronto or Niagara within reach as well as part of the return trip home.
Why have these batteries been kept from us?
You might think it’s cost prohibitive but reports say that Toyota has managed to align the cost of the solid-state battery with the lithium battery. Unfortunately, to date, there has been no confirmation of this improvement.
Another option is the sodium ion battery. These batteries cost much less due to sodium (salt) being so much more abundant than lithium. At the moment, the sodium ion battery has a lower range but would be adequate for moving around town. These salt batteries last longer meaning they have more charge cycles than their lithium counterparts. They are also not toxic and they are easy to recycle.
Recently, two Chinese automakers produced sodium battery vehicles with a range of 350 km. Don’t expect to see them any time soon in Canada.
Another issue is charging infrastructure which is growing at a snail’s pace. If government wants everyone driving electric vehicles by 2035, infrastructure must be put at the front of the list.
With the current battery capability, a person could make it to Toronto providing they have a 100% charge and the manufacturer’s stated battery distance is accurate and there are zero delays (anyone traveling the 401 knows anything could happen). You would most likely want to stop to add some charge to be sure you make it.
Now picture every car on the 401 having to stop for a charge. This is the thing that nightmares are made of. Imagine the delays when an average charge takes twenty to thirty minutes.
There is hope however. Norway, Sweden and China are experimenting with battery swap stations. Drivers stop in front of a designated station, press ‘exchange’ on a specially-designed app and the car automatically backs in and swaps out the depleted battery for an 80% charged one. The process takes about 4 to 5 minutes and works on a monthly fee that pays for the battery rental and charge.
The problem is this would take the cooperation of every car manufacturing company on the planet and could take years, and possibly decades, to organize.
So, why the rush? Is this being driven by climate change?
Yes, climate change is a big factor but if it’s the only factor let’s examine the cost to the climate for a current EV.
According to borrumenergysolutions.ca, extracting lithium consumes significant amounts of water and energy and the mining process pollutes the air and water with chemicals and heavy metals. In addition, mining lithium can disrupt wildlife habitats, cause soil erosion and lead to long term ecological damage.
According to theguardian.com and Amnesty International, mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo are using men, women and children to mine cobalt and lithium with no protection such as gloves or face masks.
In the lithium triangle in South America Chile, Argentina and Bolivia vast amounts of ground water is being pumped from underground to extract lithium from ores creating a spread of deserts.
In Tibet, a toxic chemical leak from the Granzizhou Rongda lithium mine poisoned the local Lichu river in 2016.
Are we creating more of an ecological problem than we are trying to solve?
Are we jumping the gun to restrict carbon emissions to stop global warming?
According to Stephen Kunen, a physicist and former undersecretary for science in the Obama administration, and Prager University, heat waves in the USA are no more common than they were in the 1900s. Hurricane activity is no different than it was a century ago. Floods are no more different now than they were over 70 years ago.
So, while it’s true that our globe is warming and humans are definitely responsible for a part of it. we still have to ask ourselves if the cure is worse than the sickness. In Part two we will look at this more closely.
~ Kenneth J Martin
Image by Blomst from Pixabay
I agree mandated transformation with out transparency and traceability is reckless. Thank you