"How many hours of child slave labour to produce these virtue signaling behemoths?"
- Cobalt is used in most lithium-ion products we use (including EVs).
- Cobalt mining is undertaken in poor conditions, and children are involved.
- Cobalt-free LFP batteries power some EVs.
Let's break the question down.
- Mining practices in the EV supply chain.
- Virtue signalling (that's an opinion, so I won't go into that).
Mining and EVs
We shouldn't gloss over the fact that building a car is mineral intense. Building a car with a battery is a lot more mineral intense.
Mining is not the world's most environmentally friendly practice (whether for minerals or fossil fuels), but let's focus on child labour.
Cobalt and Child labour
Most of the world's cobalt is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Numerous sources document routine child labour among the Congo's hundreds of thousands of artisanal miners.
This has not been a 'dirty little secret'.
With the transition to smartphones in the early 2010s, there was some hand-wringing about the cobalt in our phones.
But we moved on quickly and were happy to upgrade our phones and laptops every few years with little regard to recycling or labour practices.
The answer: go naked, drink no coffee, eat no chocolate, and don't own a phone, laptop, electric shaver, or toothbrush.
I'm not being flippant. It's an indictment of our globalised culture that most products we consume have child labour in the supply chain (fast fashion is a big one).
Not all batteries have cobalt
EV batteries can have different cathode chemistries. Two popular ones are NMC and NCA.
However, LFP batteries contain no cobalt.
34 % of all EVs sold (globally) during 2022 used LFP batteries (EV-volumes).
In NZ, the following EVs use LFP batteries: The BYD Atto 3, newer MG ZS, some Tesla Model 3 and Y, and possibly the new GWM Ora.
The car market has moved to increasingly larger vehicles (SUVs and utes). EVs, in particular, have more mass due to the weight of the battery.
A massive EV is an environmental oxymoron - extensive carbon emissions to produce the battery and lots of energy to move the heavier vehicle.
What can we do?
- Aim for a smaller, highly efficient EV.
- Hope that the Global Battery Passport is implemented soon and adopted by all NZ suppliers.
- Hope that people worry as much about fossil fuels as they do about EV supply chains, lithium extraction, and cobalt mining.
It's worth pointing out of the 5 best-selling new vehicles in NZ in 2022, three were high-emitting diesel utes, and one was a high-emitting large SUV.
In the whole year, 7% of registrations were battery EVs.
Just some perspective... 😉