The batteries that make electric vehicles run clean have a challenge of their own. Mining and producing the lithium for the batteries have an emissions footprint that needs to be cleaned up.
The issue has come up because Germany has discovered enough lithium in the Rhine River Valley to power 400 million electric vehicles. “The Upper-Rhine Valley in the Black Forest area of southern Germany sits in an area about 186 miles long and as many as 40 kilometers wide. The lithium is in a molten state and is trapped inside underground springs of boiling water thousands of meters below the Rhine River. If the estimates of the size of the lithium deposit are accurate, it would be one of the world’s biggest deposits.” (Source)
Here’s the headline: Lithium Batteries’ Dirty Secret: Manufacturing Them Leaves Massive Carbon Footprint “Once in operation, electric cars certainly reduce your carbon footprint, but making the lithium-ion batteries could emit 74% more CO2 than for conventional cars. …Just to build each car battery—weighing upwards of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) in size for sport-utility vehicles—would emit up to 74% more C02 than producing an efficient conventional car if it’s made in a factory powered by fossil fuels in a place like Germany.”
Novel techniques to bring up the deposits are underway. “German-Australian start-up Vulcan Energy Resources says it can deliver carbon-neutral lithium, based on extraction using geothermal energy harnessed by up to five power stations it plans to construct. German utility EnBW already has geothermal power stations and is exploring whether lithium can be a profitable by-product.” (Source)
Analysis of the entire carbon footprint for the car-making process is positive. That’s the start of changing the process for the better. More products will be doing this kind of analysis.
The lithium challenge illustrates something we have said before – no material or system is without its concerns, and those must be addressed to continuously improve our environment and energy system.