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Monday, 23 August 2021 22:19

The Paradox of ‘Clean’ EVs and the ‘Dirty’ Lithium Mining Business

Written by Christopher McFadden, Interesting Engineering
The Paradox of ‘Clean’ EVs and the ‘Dirty’ Lithium Mining Business Peter Miller/Flickr

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Electrical vehicles (EVs) are commonly hailed as something of a panacea to combating the issue of climate change. By dispensing with "dirty" and polluting combustion engines, these all-electric modes of transport are, so it is claimed, just the ticket for a greener, more sustainable future.

But, is this really true? 

 

To answer this, let's take a long hard look at the validity of EV's "green credentials." 

 

What is the environmental impact of EVs?

 

There are some very real environmental benefits to EVs on paper, in reality, there is no such thing as "free lunch"; they may not be that "clean" after all.

 

A paradox, if you will.

 

EVs, like anything manufactured, require raw materials in order to be produced, and some of these materials come bundled with very serious potential environmental costs. 

 

One of the most serious being lithium. Forming the cathode of most lithium-ion batteries, some of the ways that lithium is sourced are far from environmentally friendly.

 

An alkali metal, lithium has seen enormous growth in demand over the last few decades.

 

This is partly a result of the growth in demand for EVs, but also the fact that lithium is used in the batteries of many electronic devices, such as smartphones and laptops. Lithium is also an important raw resource for the production of glass and ceramics. 

 

And its use has been accelerating over time. According to some sources, between 2008 and 2018, annual production of lithium rose from 25,400 to 85,000 tons.

 

Li-ion battery production aside (we'll dedicate a section to that later), other environmental impacts include...


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