Another look at electric vehicles

| 12 Dec 2022 | 11:00

    The battery is just a gas tank. Really.

    Batteries, 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 is not at all valid.

    Also, since 40 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. is from coal-fired plants, it follows that 40 percent of the EVs on the road are coal-powered, do you see?

    Einstein’s formula, E=MC2, tells us that it takes the same amount of energy to move a 5,000-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.

    Americans use 3 billion of these two battery types a year, and most are not recycled; they end up in landfills. California is the only state that requires all batteries to be recycled.

    If you throw your small, used batteries in the trash, here is what happens to them. All batteries are self-discharging. That means even when not in use, they leak tiny amounts of energy. You have likely ruined a flashlight or two from an old, ruptured battery.

    When a battery runs down and can no longer power a toy or light, you think of it as dead; well, it is not. It continues to leak small amounts of electricity. As the chemicals inside it run out, pressure builds inside the battery’s metal casing and eventually it cracks. The metals left inside then ooze out. The ooze in your ruined flashlight is toxic, and so is the ooze that will inevitably leak from every battery in a landfill.

    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 those is 90 percent of them are recycled. Unfortunately, we do not yet know how to recycle single-use ones properly.

    But that is not half of it. For those of you excited about electric cars and a green revolution, I want you to take a closer look at batteries and also windmills and solar panels. These three technologies share what we call environmentally destructive production costs.

    A typical EV battery weighs 1,000 pounds, about the size of a travel trunk. It contains 25 pounds of lithium, 60 pounds of nickel, 44 pounds of manganese, 30 pounds cobalt, 200 pounds of copper, and 400 pounds of aluminum, steel, and plastic. Inside are more than 6,000 individual lithium-ion cells.

    It should concern you that 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, you dig up 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for just one battery.

    Sixty-eight percent of the world’s cobalt, a significant part of the battery, comes from the Congo. Their mines have no pollution controls, and they employ children who die from handling this toxic material. Should we factor in these diseased kids as part of the cost of driving an electric car?

    I’d like to leave you with these thoughts. California is building the largest battery in the world near San Francisco, and they intend to power it from solar panels and windmills. They claim this is the ultimate in being “green,” but it is not.

    This construction project is creating an environmental disaster. Why?

    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 also are highly toxic. Silicon dust is a hazard to the workers, and the panels cannot be recycled.

    Windmills are the ultimate in embedded costs and environmental destruction. Each weighs 1,688 tons (the equivalent of 23 houses) and contains 1,300 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 15 to 20 years, at which time it must be replaced. We cannot recycle used blades.

    There may be a place for these technologies, but you must look beyond the myth of zero emissions. “Going green” may sound like the Utopian ideal, but when you look at the hidden and embedded costs realistically with an open mind, you can see that “Going green” is more destructive to the Earth’s environment than meets the eye!

    Sandra Sloat

    West Milford