Link to the original article here
Where to start? there are so many things wrong with this article on so many levels its hard to cover them all but I am going to endeavor to try.
The first thing I would like the counter, and perhaps the most inflammatory part of the article, is summed up in this one liner “Do you want cancer with that battery?” Perhaps a better question is do you want lung cancer with that smog? or maybe you would like to inhale the toxic mix of known human carcinogens at the gas pump, such friendly chemicals as: benzene, toluene, naphthalene, trimethylbenzene, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and many other wonderful hydrocarbons listed in its MSDS (Material safety data sheet)1 but I am just going to focus on benzene which gives gas its very particular smell, in 1948 the The American Petroleum Institute (API) stated that “it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.” straight from the horses mouth as one might say, further more The US Department of Health and Human Services classifies benzene as a human carcinogen, since long term exposure can cause leukemia, liver, kidney, lung, heart and brain damage, sounds wonderful doesn’t it? To think that every time you pump gas and take a whiff that is what you are smelling. The other chemicals I have listed are in many ways just as bad and have similar health effects. So now that wisecrack might not seem to have so much ground?
But wait thats not the only problem internal combustion engine (ICE) cars produce, now we move on to smog, once a fixture of London and more infamously Los Angles during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, though still present, albeit in much smaller quantities thanks to regulations. Smog has been linked to many health issues, a study done by the Ontario Medical Association found that smog was directly responsible for an estimated 9,500 premature deaths in the province each year; another more long term study by the American Cancer Society found that cumulative exposure also increases the likelihood of premature death from a respiratory disease.2 It seems anyway you cut it smog is linked to both long term health effects, and more short term respiratory problems.
Perhaps more grave than any of this, is the environmental price of oil itself, from global warming, to extraction and spills, oil has a high price. The most recent accident in memory is the Deepwater Horizon spill, which due to what can only be described as shoddy safety precautions, leaked an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or 210,000,000 gallons) the effects of which have been sweeping, there has been extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats, fishing and tourism industries, and human health problems have continued though today, further problems arose from the highly toxic chemical dispersants used by BP to cover up the extent of the spill. To date it has cost BP $42.2 billion in various fines and damages to victims and their families, and the full extent of the damage is only just starting to be known. If you want some more chilling facts think of all the other spills around the world such as the Exxon Valdez, which was considered, up until Deepwater Horizon, to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. While the full story of oil spills is quite long and is much more detailed than I have listed here, what I am getting at is that oil is not so clean and safe.
Another fact that most studies assume, is that the gasoline powering your car magically pumped itself out of the ground, shipped itself across that country, got refined and delivered to your gas station on a flying carpet, the oil and gas industry wishes it was that simple. Current oil production is about 20-to–1, meaning that for one barrel of oil, you can extract, process, refine, ship and deliver 20 barrels of oil, the figures get worse when you use tar sands, hailed as the savior to the oil crises, the numbers are more like 5-to–13 Renewable energy sources on the other hand, are paying off at rates of 17-to–1 or higher, and are expected to go up as manufacturing processes and technology become more efficient. But that gallon of gas isn’t going to change anytime soon, since we are still using most of the same refining methods from nearly a hundred years ago.
The concerns that she mentions relating to lithium ion battery safety are in comparison to gas, utter nonsense:
The largest contributing processes include those associated with the production, processing, and use of cobalt and nickel metal compounds, which may cause adverse respiratory, pulmonary, and neurological effects in those exposed.
Compared to gasoline, the raw elements that make up a battery are much less of a health risk. In fact she forgets to mention that the entire point of the EPA report was to show where manufacturing processes could be improved and less environmentally damaging materials used. Further the EU report that she cites, actually says that lithium batteries are half as toxic as lead acid, the most commonly used starter battery in ICE cars, with estimated 2,600,000 metric tons of lead, used in cars on the road today. Since Li-ion batteries contain no toxic metals according to RoHS standards, they are generally categorized as non-hazardous waste. Li-ion battery elements including iron, copper, nickel and cobalt are considered safe for incinerators and landfills. The true impact of simply dumping the batteries in a landfill is concerning, but in comparison to Lead-Acid they are much safer. Tesla is also leading the way in recycling, it has laid out a comprehensive plan which has minimal impact due to lack of smelting and environmentally taxing processes, they are also thinking of ways in which the batteries could lead a second life in less demanding tasks, such as a power source for off-grid backup or load leveling. Further reading can be found here and here
On to her second point, which relates to where our lithium supply comes from, summed up in this quote
The answer? Not America. That’s not to say America doesn’t have lithium, it does, but most of the lithium that America uses is imported from other countries.”
What do I find egregious about this statement? For one she forgets to mention the huge new deposit of lithium that was recently found in Wyoming, which if it pans out might contain up to 18 million tons of lithium, not to mention the other smaller concentrations in Nevada and other places.4 Also, I might ask what is wrong with Chile supplying lithium, today Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, and contains the largest reserves by far at 7.5 million tonnes and the highest annual production at 12,600 tonnes.5 While a political climate can change, I frankly think the author is trying to make mountain out of a mole hill, this becomes self evident when compared to the very real problem of crude oil supply being tied up in the unstable Middle East.6 What this demonstrates to me, is the authors clear lack of any idea of how mining works, which is laid bare here
And, the European Commission on Science for Environmental Policy states that “[lithium’s] continued use needs to be monitored, especially as lithium mining’s toxicity and location in places of natural beauty can cause significant environmental, health, and social impacts.”
Well of course, any kind of mining is going to have some kind of impact on the environment, the question is not one of “if”, but how much, and once again when compared to the petroleum industry, batteries come out on top. 7 But the final blow to her “scarcity and health” argument is when you consider all the rare earth and precious metals required in the manufacture of ICE cars, including platinum, palladium, rhodium, and small amounts of gold for use in spark plug and catalytic converters, the bulk of these metals come from an area called Norilsk, Russia, where the mining industry has caused it to be added to Time magazine’s list of most-polluted places.8
As for her “bleak outlook” regarding the state of our grid, I will say one thing, according to numbers from a paper done by The Union of Concerned Scientists, an EV powered by even the dirtiest grid in the country will still emit less greenhouse gas than an average new compact car, but a hybrid, will, outperform it currently. However as states move to cleaner grids such as those that are gas fired, nuclear, or renewables (which many are), the EV outperforms by a large margin.9 These numbers are backed up by information from the US Energy Information Association, in fact Tesla’s own website provides a very easy to use interactive map which shows that if Mrs. Spence were to drive and charge a Model S in her home state of Colorado she would produce around 23 pounds of CO2 per day based on 40 miles per day, verses a little over 35 pounds for a typical gasoline powered car. In fact even in the worst case which is the District of Columbia which is powered by 100% petroleum (the irony is ripe there) you would still emit 5 pounds less. But the biggest advantage a pure electric has over a hybrid or ICE car, is that the cleaner Colorado’s grid gets, the cleaner an electric car gets, so over time it emits less emissions than when you bought it, a magic trick that would make even Henry Ford do a double take.
Despite all the facts clearly laid out above, Yahoo insists on writing this trashy linkbait in an effort to get people to click and read so they can profit in ad revenue, its not the kind of journalism that should be supported, I also might advise that in the future Mrs. Spence read the studies she sites a little more closely.
But as they say…
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