There are no solutions, only tradeoffs …
Auto manufacturers and developers of batteries for EVs worried there would be a nickel shortage, especially after the move away from cobalt.
Why move away from cobalt? When human rights groups and journalists reported on widespread child labor in cobalt operations and dangerous conditions faced by miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, automakers worried that there would not be enough nickel to meet rapidly growing demand. One solution was to tweak batteries to reduce cobalt by adding more nickel, reports the WSJ.
Refining Nickel Is Carbon Intensive
How do you get minerals out of the ground and turn them into battery-ready substances? Well, nickel is particularly environmentally unfriendly, explains the WSJ. Reaching nickel means cutting down swaths of rainforests, for example. Refining nickel is a carbon-intensive process that involves extreme heat and high pressure. Furthermore, it is hard to dispose of the waste slurry that mining nickel produces.
It takes less than two years of driving for an EV’s total emissions to fall below that of a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle, according to Tesla.
The nickel issue reflects a larger contradiction within the EV industry: Though electric vehicles are designed to be less damaging to the environment in the long term than conventional cars, the process of building them carries substantial environmental harm.
New Environmental Concerns
Around half of all nickel used in EV batteries made last year comes from Indonesia.
The HPAL process (high pressure acid leach) involves dousing nickel ore in sulfuric acid and heating it to more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit at enormous pressures. Producing nickel this way is nearly twice as carbon-intensive as mining and processing sulfide nickel found in Canada and Russia. Another way of processing laterite ore that often uses coal-powered furnaces is six times as carbon-intensive, according to the International Energy Agency.
An Inconvenient Truth
Chopping Down Rainforest to Lower Carbon Footprint
The challenge is not confined to U.S. EVs or any other country that manufactures electric vehicles. In Indonesia’s mineral-rich islands, by far the world’s largest source of nickel, these deep underground deposits lie close to the surface, under stretches of overlapping forests. Getting to the nickel is easy and inexpensive, but only after the forests are cleared, explains the WSJ.
One Indonesian mine, known as Hengjaya, obtained permits five years ago to expand its operations into a forested area nearly three times the size of New York City’s Central Park. The mine’s Australian owner, Nickel Industries, said that rainforest clearing in 2021 caused greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 56,000 tons of carbon-dioxide. That’s roughly equal to driving 12,000 conventional cars for a year, according to calculations by The Wall Street Journal based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.
Nickel is responsible for more than a third of the carbon emissions generated from making a common type of battery cell—more than any other mineral or production process—the report said.
A Giant Green Hoax
It is not simply that the range of battery-powered cars is limited or that their construction makes repairs exceedingly expensive or that the materials to make them are in short supply or that reported fires in their lithium-ion cells are hard to extinguish or that, even with subsidies, their estimated sticker prices are far above comparable gas-powered vehicles.
Like Lithium, nickel mining, concentrating and conversion requires large amounts of energy to mine.
It is reported that economist Dr. Thomas Sowell, a Nobel Prize winner grounded in reality, said, “There are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”
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