As Americans, we are almost innately connected to our gas-burning, oil drinking vehicles. Because they are so commonplace, it’s hard for us to really see the full effect they have on the environment.
Gas-powered cars have been the arch-nemesis of electric vehicles for a long time, perhaps longer than you may think. Before the production of the Ford Model T, one-third of road vehicles were electric. At that time electric vehicles suffered similar limitations to what they do today — range. Further, the mass production of gas-powered cars made them much cheaper than electric and therefore stifled the growth of electric vehicles. What an alternate reality that could’ve been. Since that time electric and hybrid cars have ebbed and flowed in their popularity. We know today their popularity has strongly increased. In 2012 400,000 people waited for the first Tesla, within 24 hours of announcing the Model 3, Tesla was buried in a full 200,000 person waitlist. Today people want electric cars.
Because of the rise in popularity of these cars, a new race for all-electric has begun. New and old manufacturers are beginning what could be called the Electric Gold Rush. To produce these cars a few key ingredients are needed, namely cobalt, nickel, and lithium. These are finite minerals that when mined produce seriously negative effects on our environment.
In 2018 Wired Magazine reported on some of the effects of lithium mining, “As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required to enable that transformation could become a serious issue in its own right. ‘One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,’ says Christina Valimaki an analyst at Elsevier.”
The good news is, innovations in the field of lithium mining and recycling have led to decreases in the harmful effects of its extraction. What increases this issue is the need for cobalt and nickel. As it stands now, the Congo is the only place you can get cobalt. The presence of cobalt and the lack of regulation in the Congo have led to a wild west of mining efforts to get it.