Tesla’s unveiling of its mass market Model 3 sparked a global interest in making electric vehicles the next big thing in automobile manufacturing. But can the category’s green agenda keep up with its metal and recycling needs?
The concept of bunking the traditional engine for a non-gas guzzling counterpart has been here for decades, but creating an ecosystem for battery charging and bringing vehicle costs down was a challenge for decades.
The sheer force of Elon Musk’s vision is building the infrastructure needed to sustain millions of electric cars in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Most major manufacturers have joined the enthusiasm to ditch old-school engines to construct the international fleet of tomorrow.
But this new step doesn’t solve all of the world’s environmental pollution issues related to transportation. The extraction of rare earth minerals, the disposal of lithium-ion batteries, and the sourcing of the energy that powers charging stations are all issues that plague the future of the green argument for electric vehicles.
As Wired notes in an article from last year, electric vehicles are most efficient when they’re light. That way, they need minimal energy to transport their valuable cargo. In search for a light material to carry and conduct batteries, scientists discovered the power of lithium—a highly conductive metal that adds little burden to the vehicle’s frame.
Discovered in 1817, this key ingredient is mostly extracted from deposits in the United States, Chile, and Australia. The most cost-effective method for lithium processing involves pumping salt-rich waters into special evaporation ponds that eventually produce lithium chloride. Then, a special plant adds sodium carbonate to turn the former lithium chloride into lithium carbonate, a white powder.
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