This is an excellent breakdown of how we often fool ourselves with the myth of “Going Green”.
Batteries do not make electricity – they store electricity produced elsewhere, primarily by coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear powered plants, or diesel-fueled generators.
So, to say an Electric Vehicle or “EV“ is a zero-emission vehicle is not at all valid. We just fool ourselves into thinking it is.
Also, since over 90% of electricity generated in the U.S. is from coal, oil or natural gas fired plants, it follows that over 90% of the EVs on the road are fossil fuel powered - if you open your eyes, do you see?
Einstein's formula, E=mc2, tells us it takes the same amount of energy to move a 5,000lb 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. California is the only state which requires all batteries 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% 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 1,000lbs, about the size of a travel trunk. It contains 25lbs of lithium, 60lbs of nickel, 44lbs of manganese, 30lbs cobalt, 200lbs of copper, and 400lbs of aluminum, steel, and plastic. Inside are over 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 25,000lbs of brine for the lithium, 30,000lbs of ore for the cobalt, 5,000lbs of ore for the nickel, and 25,000lbs of ore for copper. All told, you dig up 500,000lbs of the earth's crust for just - one - battery.
68% 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. 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. Let me tell you 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 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 81,000lbs 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 - that’s for sure.