The Record

Mommy, where did my Tesla come from?

- Jeff Vaughan is an in­de­pen­dent petroleum ge­ol­o­gist who was born and worked in Bak­ers­field his en­tire ca­reer. Clean Tech · Ecology · Consumer Goods · Automotive Industry · Electric Cars · Electric Vehicles · Oil · Energy · Industries · Cars · Nikola Tesla · Tesla Motors · Carbon · China · Australia · Brazil · India · Russia · Philadelphia Union · United States of America · Canada · United Arab Emirates · Indonesia · Philippines · New Caledonia · Lithium · Chile · Argentina · Zimbabwe · South Africa · Africa · Gabon · Democratic Republic of Congo · Cuba · British Columbia · California · Tesla Model S · Canawaugus, New York

This is a take on the age old ques­tion that older sib­lings have been pon­der­ing for­ever. Surely the wise and el­e­gant stork that de­liv­ered me home is not the same de­mented or ine­bri­ated one that de­liv­ered my de­fec­tive younger brother? So let’s take a look at elec­tric ve­hi­cles and where they come from in com­par­ing them to their in­ter­nally com­busted sib­lings.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The fol­low­ing is a par­tial list of items in an elec­tric ve­hi­cle that come from hy­dro­car­bons (oil and gas). Hint — plas­tic is made from hy­dro­car­bons, but it is not the only petroleum prod­uct used on elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Tires, belts, hoses, all elec­tri­cal wires are coated in plas­tic in­clud­ing bat­tery wires, power steer­ing fluid, brake fluid, an­tifreeze, coolant for air-con­di­tion­ing, trans­mis­sion fluid, all plas­tics in the en­gine com­part­ment which are too many to be­gin to list as most newer cars mo­tors are shrouded in plas­tic. Car­bon fiber, fiber-glass, most fend­ers, many grills, wind­shield wipers, sealants around win­dows and un­der­car­riage, some side pan­els and all paint. Steer­ing wheel, kick pan­els, air bag, dash­board, car­pet, door han­dles, switches, most parts of the seat that aren’t leather, cen­ter con­sole. I will stop here but point out that there are a lot of com­po­nents made from oil be­sides the on av­er­age 1,000 parts made of plas­tic on the av­er­age elec­tric ve­hi­cle.

So now that we can leave that dirty para­graph be­hind, let’s con­tinue with some more sim­i­lar­i­ties. Both elec­tric and in­ter­nally com­busted autos have some form of steel frames. They have tra­di­tion­ally been made from iron, but are in­creas­ingly re­ly­ing on alu­minum for lighter weight com­po­nents. Iron is one of the more com­mon el­e­ments in the world and forms about 5 per­cent of the crust of the earth. The lead­ing iron ore pro­duc­ing coun­tries are China, Aus­tralia, Brazil, In­dia and Rus­sia. The U.S. is cur­rently No. 8 on the list, but all forms of mining here are re­tract­ing rapidly as other coun­tries have far out­paced us as it is far cheaper to process where there is lit­tle reg­u­la­tion on the en­vi­ron­ment and the hu­mans that work in the mines and pro­cess­ing plants. Iron ore is strip or open-pit mined then trucked, trained or shipped to a mill where it is melted from fur­naces us­ing pri­mar­ily coal and sec­on­dar­ily nat­u­ral gas to heat the rocks to sep­a­rate the molten steel. China, Brazil, In­dia and Rus­sia do not have any­thing close to the en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions that ap­ply in the U.S.

Alu­minum is also strip mined and pro­cessed by crush­ing, dry­ing and grind­ing then melt­ing in 1,700 de­gree Fahren­heit fur­naces.

The top coun­tries for alu­minum are China, In­dia, Rus­sia, Canada and the UAE. The U.S. now ranks ninth on alu­minum pro­duc­tion. With the ex­cep­tion of Canada, the other four coun­tries are not very earth friendly. Tesla’s elec­tric ve­hi­cle frames in par­tic­u­lar are made mainly from alu­minum.

Now, let’s fo­cus on the dif­fer­ences be­tween elec­tric ve­hi­cle and in­ter­nally com­busted ve­hi­cles. Tesla bat­ter­ies are mainly made from lithium, nickel, cobalt and alu­minum. A Tesla Model S bat­tery weighs ap­prox­i­mately 1,054 pounds as com­pared with a stan­dard 40 to 50 pound lead-acid bat­tery found in most in­ter­nally com­busted ve­hi­cles. The top nickel pro­duc­ing coun­tries are In­done­sia, Philip­pines, Rus­sia, New Cale­do­nia and Aus­tralia. The U.S. has min­i­mal nickel de­posits. Nickel is strip mined then re­fined at very high tem­per­a­tures and leached and pro­cessed with sul­fu­ric acid or am­mo­nia.

Lithium is mined in Aus­tralia, Chile, China Ar­gentina and Zim­babwe. Man­ganese is one of the top ma­te­ri­als used for Tesla’s power walls and the pri­mary com­po­nent in other elec­tric ve­hi­cle bat­ter­ies. The top man­ganese pro­duc­ing coun­tries are South Africa, Aus­tralia, China, Gabon and Brazil. All of these met­als are strip mined and re­fined at very high tem­per­a­tures from mainly coal pow­ered fur­naces. With the ex­cep­tion of Aus­tralia, I again ask you to con­sider how eco-friendly these coun­tries are.

About 60 per­cent of the world’s cobalt comes from Congo. This is fol­lowed by Rus­sia, Cuba, Aus­tralia and the Philip­pines. If you wish to get de­pressed, do an in­ter­net search for “Congo cobalt slav­ery.” This cobalt also pow­ers our lithium-ion cell­phone bat­ter­ies, so don’t fo­cus your wrath on just elec­tric ve­hi­cle bat­ter­ies. Chil­dren as young as 6-years-old “work” for about 65 cents per day un­der hor­rid con­di­tions. China runs many of the in­dus­trial mines and plants here. The pic­tures of the eco­log­i­cal dam­age are breath­tak­ing, but the hu­man dam­age is much worse.

Hu­mans have been uti­liz­ing met­als since at least 6000 BC where Ne­olithic pot­tery kilns have been dis­cov­ered that melted tin and cop­per. Hu­mans will con­tinue to use and need met­als for many cen­turies to come. I would pre­fer we do busi­ness with coun­tries that ob­serve hu­man rights and op­er­ate un­der strict en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols like the United States does. So far, so called green en­ergy uses ma­te­ri­als from some of the worst eco­log­i­cal and hu­man rights of­fend­ers that ex­ist on earth. You are wel­come to drive an elec­tric ve­hi­cle. I wish I were not forced into sub­si­diz­ing you to do so at both the state and fed­eral level. The en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age from strip mining enough met­als to re­place ev­ery car and all elec­tri­cal en­ergy gen­er­a­tion in Cal­i­for­nia is the ex­act op­po­site of green.

 ?? DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / AP ?? In this May 6 pho­to­graph, an un­sold 2020 Model X sits at a Tesla deal­er­ship in Su­pe­rior, Colo.
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / AP In this May 6 pho­to­graph, an un­sold 2020 Model X sits at a Tesla deal­er­ship in Su­pe­rior, Colo.

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