Rebecca Solnick

So yesterday I had a post about climate change and fossil fuel (I have a lot of them, as you might have noticed) and someone got all over me about minerals for batteries, and I’ve heard a lot about that side of things so I looked it up. Just as I expected, the Koch Brothers have pushed that viewpoint. Earlier campaigns by the fossil fuel industry tried to turn people against wind turbines. In every case, the harm done by fossil fuels to the environment and human rights is far vaster than that done by renewables.

There are indeed problematic sources of materials and problematic siting of wind turbines and solar plants, but there are ways to do these things right and we must do them to escape the calamity of climate change that so outweighs them. And in many cases, there are less problematic sources of materials, design evolution to use less problematic materials, etc. But people spout their stuff like bosses (and inspired my “yes but” micro-essay earlier today). And yeah, every new energy technology is dynamic–being improved or evolving thanks to brlliant engineers, and they are working hard on all this stuff. More in links.


As you would expect, their “education” is full of misinformation.

Their latest propaganda effort against EVs focuses on sourcing metals for batteries and spreading misinformation about EVs in general.

The first claim they make is that “electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars.” They based that assertion on a study by Arthur D. Little,. which has been thoroughly debunked for inflating their emission estimates by 40% by accounting for battery replacement without recycling and adding the need for a replacement gasoline car with the EV.

They followed with a claim that batteries for electric cars are made of rare earth metals, which is not exactly true. First off, they include lithium and cobalt in rare earth element, which they are not.

Furthermore, there are tons of different battery chemistries using different minerals and they are not all the same nor have the same impact. Most battery makers try to avoid all rare earth metals, some do avoid them entirely.

In this case, they are focusing on cobalt, which is not a rare earth metal, but nonetheless, it can be a problematic mineral. A report by Amnesty International and Afrewatch published last year pointed directly to battery makers and their clients as fueling the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where they produced most of the world’s cobalt.

In order to mitigate the impact of their products, companies have been following guidelines suggested in the report to supervise their supply chains in order to avoid any minerals in the DRC that could have been sourced in inhumane conditions and using child labor.

Furthermore, several new projects to mine cobalt, and other minerals found in batteries, have been launched in other parts of the world, including in North America, in order to offer alternatives to the DRC if the conditions don’t improve there.

Lastly, without sourcing their claim, the “Fueling U.S. Forward” campaign claims that batteries end up in landfills without being recycled. That’s something that is obviously false and actually one of the biggest advantages EVs have over gas-powered cars on the environment.

Once the oil is extracted, refined, transported, and consumed, there’s nothing to be done. It is released into the atmosphere and they have to start again. On the other hand, the minerals don’t simply evaporate from the batteries. Once their energy capacity has degraded, they can be recycled and you can be sure that they are since they still hold great value. It is much easier to mine a used battery pack than minerals in remote regions of the world.

Actually, battery recycling is expected to become big business. Whether it is to make less energy dense products, like BMW and Renault using their old EV batteries for stationary energy storage, or to recycle the actual minerals to make brand new batteries. Tesla is even believed to be behind a new startup for material recycling in order to take advantage of opportunities.

In conclusion, watch out for the misinformation in those Koch brothers-backed campaigns. While there are problems with sourcing some minerals for batteries, it is false to reach the conclusion that “electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars” because of it.

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