Scientists have warned the government of the “huge implications for our natural resources” because of electric vehicles.
The team of scientists issued the warning to the Committee of Climate Change. They claim that the government’s electric vehicle (EV) targets will require twice the world’s annual cobalt supply. As it stands, the government wants to replace 31.5 million vehicles with EVs by 2050. Basing their calculations on current ‘811’ battery technology, they also determined the country will need a number of other materials. These include the global annual supply of neodymium, three quarter’s of the world’s lithium and “at least half” of the world’s copper.
In their letter, the scientists explain the sheer quantity of materials required for the EV transition. It stipulates that it’ll need 2,362,500 tonnes of copper, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate and 207,900 tonnes of cobalt; in addition to 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium. Current battery technology tends to be 80% nickel, 10% cobalt and 10% manganese. The Committee of Climate Change has previously called for all new cars to be zero-emission by 2035. Professor Herrington, part of the team who produced the letter, said this pace would require “the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of European industry.”
A Question Of Power
The letter also raises concerns about the amount of electricity that a transition to EVs will require. It claims that the country would need an additional 6,000 wind turbines in order to generate it in an environmentally friendly way; which would require an enormous amount of rare-earth materials themselves. The scientists claim that it’d take four times the UK’s annual electrical output just to mine the necessary materials.
Another problem with sourcing raw materials is the mounting competition in securing them. The UK isn’t the only country looking to transform its automotive landscape. EU legislation is practically forcing the issue on its member states and China has become the largest market for EVs and EV technologies (especially batteries). This race has led to serious concerns about how raw materials are being sourced and extracted; especially in Africa.
The letter stresses that the government’s goals are “laudable”, but stressed “global supply of raw materials must drastically change to accommodate not just the UK’s transformation to a low carbon economy, but the whole world’s.” Herrington stated, “our role as scientists is to provide the evidence for how best to move towards a zero-carbon economy – society needs to understand that there is a raw material cost of going green”.
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