Tesla said it best in referring to batteries as an Energy Storage System. They do NOT make electricity – they store electricity produced elsewhere, primarily by coal, uranium, natural gas-powered plants, or diesel-fueled generators. So, to say an electric vehicle (EV) is a zero-emission vehicle…not. Also, since forty percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. is from coal-fired plants, it follows that forty percent of the EVs on the road are in fact coal-powered…let that sink in.
Einstein’s formula, E=MC2, tells us it takes the same amount of energy to move a five-thousand-pound gasoline-driven automobile a mile as it does an electric one. The only question again is what produces the power? To reiterate, it does not come from the battery; the battery is only the storage device, like a gas tank in a car.
There are two orders of batteries, rechargeable, and single use. The most common single use batteries are A, AA, AAA, C, D. 9V, and lantern types. Those dry-cell species use zinc, manganese, lithium, silver oxide, or zinc and carbon to store electricity chemically. Please note they all contain toxic, heavy metals. Rechargeable batteries only differ in their internal materials, usually lithium-ion, nickel-metal oxide, and nickel-cadmium. The United States uses three billion of these two battery types a year, and most are not recycled; they end up in landfills. If you throw your small, used batteries in the trash, they will continue to leak like the ooze in a ruined flashlight. All batteries eventually rupture; it just takes rechargeable batteries longer to end up in the landfill.
In addition to dry cell batteries, there are also wet cell ones used in automobiles, boats, and motorcycles. The good thing about these is that ninety percent of them are recycled. Unfortunately, we do not yet know how to recycle single-use ones properly.
But that is not the half of it. For those excited about EV, a closer look at batteries along with windmills and solar panels is highly recommended. These three technologies share environmentally destructive embedded costs.
Everything manufactured has two costs associated with it: embedded costs and operating costs. Embedded costs are those that happen before point of sale such as fuel costs, equipment, labor, transportation, etc. For example, a typical EV battery weighs one thousand pounds, about the size of a travel trunk. It contains twenty-five pounds of lithium, sixty pounds of nickel, 44 pounds of manganese, 30 pounds cobalt, 200 pounds of copper, and 400 pounds of aluminum, steel, and plastic.
Inside are over 6,000 individual lithium-ion cells. This should concern you. All those toxic components come from mining. For instance, to manufacture each EV auto battery, you must process 25,000 pounds of brine for the lithium, 30,000 pounds of ore for the cobalt, 5,000 pounds of ore for the nickel, and 25,000 pounds of ore for copper.
All told, it would take 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for just one battery. Sixty-eight percent of the world’s cobalt, a significant part of a battery, comes from the Congo. Their mines have no pollution controls, and they employ children who die from handling this toxic material.
Despite the fact California is the only state which requires batteries be recycled, they are building the largest battery in the world near San Francisco which they intend to power from solar panels and windmills. This construction project is creating an environmental disaster.
The main problem with solar arrays is the chemicals needed to process silicate into the silicon used in the panels. To make pure enough silicon requires processing it with hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, trichloroethane, and acetone. In addition, they also need gallium, arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride which are highly toxic. Also, silicone dust is a hazard to the workers, and the panels cannot be recycled.
Windmills are the ultimate in embedded costs and environmental destruction. Each weigh 1688 tons (the equivalent of 23 houses) and contains 1300 tons of concrete, 295 tons of steel, 48 tons of iron, 24 tons of fiberglass, and the hard to extract rare earths neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium. Each blade weighs 81,000 pounds and will last only 15 to 20 years. The used blades cannot be recycled. And sadly, both solar arrays and windmills kill birds, bats, sea life, and migratory insects.
There may be a place for these technologies, but looking beyond the myth of zero emissions, it is predicted EVs, solar panels and windmills will be abandoned once the embedded environmental costs of making and replacing them become more apparent.