Mommy, where did my Tesla come from?
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.