By 2035, every new car and truck sold in the U.S. could be an EV, a new report says.
Accelerations in technology and especially battery affordability, paired with new policy, mean the dramatic transition would save American drivers $2.7 trillion by 2050, an average savings of $1,000 per household per year.
The ramp up in EV production would also create 2 million new jobs by 2035. Battery prices have fallen 74% since 2014, and their unexpectedly rapid fall is a key driver of the cost savings.
EVs are far simpler mechanically, and more efficient, than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, which translates to reduced climate pollution and lower costs for consumers.
Strengthened vehicle efficiency standards and investment in fast charging infrastructure are needed to accelerate the transition, which would prevent 150,000 premature deaths and save $1.3 trillion in health environmental costs by 2050.
For a deeper dive:
By Douglas Broom
- If online deliveries continue with fossil-fuel trucks, emissions will increase by a third.
- So cities in the Netherlands will allow only emission-free delivery vehicles after 2025.
- The government is giving delivery firms cash help to buy or lease electric vehicles.
- The bans will save 1 megaton of CO2 every year by 2030.
Cities in the Netherlands want to make their air cleaner by banning fossil fuel delivery vehicles from urban areas from 2025.
"Now that we are spending more time at home, we are noticing the large number of delivery vans and lorries driving through cities," said Netherlands environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven, announcing plans to ban all but zero-emission deliveries in 14 cities.
"The agreements we are setting down will ensure that it will be a matter of course that within a few years, supermarket shelves will be stocked, waste will be collected, and packages will arrive on time, yet without any exhaust fumes and CO2 emissions," she added.
She expects 30 cities to announce zero emission urban logistics by this summer. City councils must give four years' notice before imposing bans as part of government plans for emission-free road traffic by 2050. The city bans aim to save 1 megaton of CO2 each year by 2030.
Help to Change
To encourage transport organizations to go carbon-free, the government is offering grants of more than US$5,900 to help businesses buy or lease electric vehicles. There will be additional measures to help small businesses make the change.
The Netherlands claims it is the first country in the world to give its cities the freedom to implement zero-emission zones. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht already have "milieuzones" where some types of vehicles are banned.
Tilburg, one of the first wave of cities imposing the Dutch ban, will not allow fossil-fuelled vehicles on streets within its outer ring road and plans to roll out a network of city-wide electric vehicle charging stations before the ban comes into effect in 2025.
"Such initiatives are imperative to improve air quality. The transport of the future must be emission-free, sustainable, and clean," said Tilburg city alderman Oscar Dusschooten.
Europe Takes Action
Research by Renault shows that many other European cities are heading in the same direction as the Netherlands, starting with Low Emission Zones of which Germany's "Umweltzone" were pioneers. More than 100 communes in Italy have introduced "Zonas a traffico limitato."
Madrid's "zona de baja emisión" bans diesel vehicles built before 2006 and petrol vehicles from before 2000 from central areas of the city. Barcelona has similar restrictions and the law will require all towns of more than 50,000 inhabitants to follow suit.
Perhaps the most stringent restrictions apply in London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which charges trucks and large vehicles up to US$137 a day to enter the central area if they do not comply with Euro 6 emissions standards. From October, the ULEZ is being expanded.
Cities are responsible for around 75% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use, according to the green thinktank REN21 - and much of these come from transport. Globally, transport accounts for 24% of world CO2 emissions.
The Rise of Online Shopping
Part of the reason for traffic in urban areas is the increase in delivery vehicles, as online shopping continues to grow. Retailer ecommerce sales are expected to pass $5billion in 2022, according to eMarketer.
The World Economic Forum's report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem, published in January 2020, estimates that e-commerce will increase the number of delivery vehicles on the roads of the world's 100 largest cities by 36% by 2030.
If all those vehicles burn fossil fuels, the report says emissions will increase by 32%. But switching to all-electric delivery vehicles would cut emissions by 30% from current levels as well as reducing costs by 25%, the report says.
Other solutions explored in the report include introducing goods trams to handle deliveries alongside their passenger-carrying counterparts and increased use of parcel lockers to reduce the number of doorstep deliveries.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Christian Brand
Globally, only one in 50 new cars were fully electric in 2020, and one in 14 in the UK. Sounds impressive, but even if all new cars were electric now, it would still take 15-20 years to replace the world's fossil fuel car fleet.
The emission savings from replacing all those internal combustion engines with zero-carbon alternatives will not feed in fast enough to make the necessary difference in the time we can spare: the next five years. Tackling the climate and air pollution crises requires curbing all motorized transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible. Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions.
This is partly because electric cars aren't truly zero-carbon – mining the raw materials for their batteries, manufacturing them and generating the electricity they run on produces emissions.
Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize due to its heavy fossil fuel use and reliance on carbon-intensive infrastructure – such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves - and the way it embeds car-dependent lifestyles. One way to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially globally, is to swap cars for cycling, e-biking and walking – active travel, as it's called.
Active travel is cheaper, healthier, better for the environment, and no slower on congested urban streets. So how much carbon can it save on a daily basis? And what is its role in reducing emissions from transport overall?
In new research, colleagues and I reveal that people who walk or cycle have lower carbon footprints from daily travel, including in cities where lots of people are already doing this. Despite the fact that some walking and cycling happens on top of motorized journeys instead of replacing them, more people switching to active travel would equate to lower carbon emissions from transport on a daily and trip-by-trip basis.
What a Difference a Trip Makes
We observed around 4,000 people living in London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Vienna, Orebro, Rome and Zurich. Over a two-year period, our participants completed 10,000 travel diary entries which served as records of all the trips they made each day, whether going to work by train, taking the kids to school by car or riding the bus into town. For each trip, we calculated the carbon footprint.
Strikingly, people who cycled on a daily basis had 84% lower carbon emissions from all their daily travel than those who didn't.
We also found that the average person who shifted from car to bike for just one day a week cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO₂ – equivalent to the emissions from driving a car for 10km, eating a serving of lamb or chocolate, or sending 800 emails.
When we compared the life cycle of each travel mode, taking into account the carbon generated by making the vehicle, fueling it and disposing of it, we found that emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.
We also estimate that urban residents who switched from driving to cycling for just one trip per day reduced their carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO₂ over the course of a year, and save the equivalent emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York. If just one in five urban residents permanently changed their travel behavior in this way over the next few years, we estimate it would cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%.
Nearly half of the fall in daily carbon emissions during global lockdowns in 2020 came from reductions in transport emissions. The pandemic forced countries around the world to adapt to reduce the spread of the virus. In the UK, walking and cycling have been the big winners, with a 20% rise in people walking regularly, and cycling levels increasing by 9% on weekdays and 58% on weekends compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is despite cycle commuters being very likely to work from home.
Active travel has offered an alternative to cars that keeps social distancing intact. It has helped people to stay safe during the pandemic and it could help reduce emissions as confinement is eased, particularly as the high prices of some electric vehicles are likely to put many potential buyers off for now.
So the race is on. Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation.
Christian Brand is an Associate Professor in Transport, Energy & Environment, Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.
Disclosure statement: Christian Brand received funding for this work from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme via the 'Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches' project and UK Research and Innovation via the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions and the UK Energy Research Centre.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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For the first time, major companies are adding their voices to the call for a ban on deep-sea mining.
Google, BMW, Volvo and Samsung SD all signed a WWF statement last Wednesday calling for a moratorium on the controversial practice until its environmental impacts are thoroughly understood, Reuters reported.
"We welcome this important step, and call on other companies who care about the ocean to join these leaders by signing on to the statement," WWF International Global Ocean leader John Tanzer said in a press release. "It is a clear message to those who are swayed by the false promise that deep seabed mining is a 'green' and attractive investment proposition. It is not so."
Deep-sea mining would involve the extraction of mineral-rich, potato-sized nodules from the ocean floor, as BBC News explained. These nodules contain elements like cobalt that are necessary for building electric vehicle batteries. Proponents therefore argue that mining the seafloor is an important tool for fighting the climate crisis while being less damaging than mining on land.
But WWF counters that the practice could be extremely damaging for little-understood deep-sea ecosystems, harm fisheries and disrupt nutrient and carbon cycles. This argument has proved persuasive to some companies.
"It's the fear that everything we do down there could have irreversible consequences," senior BMW sustainability expert Claudia Becker told BBC News. "Those nodules grew over millions of years and if we take them out now, we don't understand how many species depend on them – what does this mean for the beginning of our food chain? There's way too little evidence, the research is just starting, it's too big a risk."
In signing WWF's statement, BMW and the other companies are pledging not to source minerals from the seabed, not to permit them into their supply chains and not to fund any mining exploration. They are asking the moratorium be kept in place until three conditions are met:
- The risks are clearly understood.
- All alternative mineral sources have been used up.
- It is clear the mining can be done in a way that preserves marine ecosystems and biodiversity.
Despite WWF's concerns, mining companies are moving ahead with exploring the possibilities of deep-sea mining. DeepGreen, GSR and UK Seabed Resources, a UK Lockheed Martin subsidiary, all hold exploratory licenses, Reuters reported. Norway has said it could license companies to begin the practice as soon as 2023.
DeepGreen, which plans to mine in the Pacific, argued that the mining was necessary to fight the climate crisis and was less harmful than other ways of accessing key minerals.
"Where exactly will BMW get the battery metals it needs to fully electrify its products, and with what impact to our climate?" the company said in a statement reported by BBC News. "Will Volvo customers really prefer rainforest metals in their EVs once they realise their dire impacts on freshwater ecosystems, indigenous peoples, charismatic megafauna and carbon-storing forests?"
However, WWF argued that these are the wrong questions.
"The pro-deep seabed mining lobby is creating their own narrative by choosing to portray only some of what we know and don't know. They are selling a story that companies need deep seabed minerals in order to produce electric cars, batteries and other items that reduce carbon emissions," Jessica Battle, leader of WWF's No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative, said in the press release. "But savvy companies that are committed to sustainability are seeing through that false narrative. Deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster. We can decarbonize through innovation, redesigning, reducing, reusing and recycling."
- Will the Race for Electric Vehicles Endanger the Seafloor? - EcoWatch ›
- David Attenborough Calls For Ban on Deep-Sea Mining - EcoWatch ›
Today in Pittsburgh, President Biden will outline his American Jobs Plan, proposals for major infrastructure investments in clean energy, water system updates, and other economy-growing initiatives designed to create millions of jobs, address aging infrastructure and lessen racial and other inequities throughout the economy.
Biden's $2 trillion plan to fight climate change and revitalize the American economy includes calls for Congressional funding to the tune of: $16 billion to employ union oil and gas workers to cap orphaned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, $35 billion in clean tech R&D to address the climate crisis, $85 billion to modernize public transit systems, $174 billion to promote electric vehicles through consumer incentives, supply chain support, charging network build outs, school bus electrification, and electrifying the federal fleet, $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience, and $213 billion to build, modernize, and weatherize affordable housing.
Biden's plan also calls for investing $111 billion to improve the country's drinking water systems, including eliminating all lead water pipes and service lines in the country. Labor and environmental groups called for even greater ambition and spending to "build a more just, equitable, clean and more prosperous American economy" in a letter to Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders. Funding will pay for itself over 15 years, the administration says, by a combination of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, raising corporate taxes, ending offshore-tax havens and strengthening corporate tax enforcement.
The plan also calls for passage of a bill aimed at significantly strengthening workers' rights to organize. The $2 trillion plan push is just the first of the administration's massive two-part infrastructure investment agenda as Biden is expected to release part two, the "American Families Plan" in two weeks.
For a deeper dive:
Champion NASCAR drivers recently had a chance to test a new Ford vehicle.
It has seven motors in it. It has 1,400 horsepower. And it's electric.
Mark Rushbrook is global director of Ford Performance Motorsports. The company developed a racing version of its all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover.
"It pushes everything to the extreme to really show what the potential is of this platform and for electric power trains," he says.
The prototype is not street-legal, and it's not competing in races. But the company is using it to showcase what an EV can do.
"You feel that almost instantaneous torque going from a standing start, and it is just a very sustained high rate of acceleration," Rushbrook says. "Even our NASCAR drivers that drive very high-power internal combustion engine race cars … they just come out smiling and excited about what the future is."
The car may be a one-off, but Ford says its commitment to EVs is not. The company recently announced that it's increasing its investment in EVs to $22 billion.
So, Rushbrook says Ford wants to get people thinking about EVs not only as good for the climate, but as fun, fast, and powerful cars.
Cars on the island of Yell, located in the Shetland Islands in Scotland's northernmost region, can now be fueled entirely by tidal energy from Nova Innovation's tidal turbines. Tidal turbines are large, revolving machines anchored to the seafloor. Besides fueling electric vehicles, the company explained that Nova Innovation's tidal turbines don't visually impact the landscape or pose a navigation hazard. They also offer long-term and accurate predictability when it comes to powering Shetland's grid.
The company tidal array has been powering local homes and businesses on Yell for more than five years, a company spokesperson told EcoWatch. Now, that same technology feeds into an electric vehicle charge point on the island fueled entirely by the sea.
Nova Innovation's CEO Simon Forrest said, "We now have the reality of tidal powered cars, which demonstrates the huge steps forward we are making in tackling the climate emergency and achieving net-zero by working in harmony with our natural environment."
The new technology is a first for the UK, and can be deployed around the world, Forrest said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. Several different tidal energy technologies in Scotland work to capitalize on the country's many islands and tidal currents. The goal is to reduce reliance on traditional combustion engine vehicles, which are responsible for around one-fifth of all carbon emissions in the UK, Maritime Journal reported.
Fiona Nicholson, a local electric car driver and fan of Nova Innovation's technology, said, "[I]t is exciting to have this on my doorstep... Most people in Shetland live close to the sea — to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource."
Nicholson has been following Nova Innovation since it built its test model, and believes there will be continued interest in the technology and how different businesses could potentially use it, the company statement said.
Scotland has been a global leader in renewable energy sourcing for years, particularly tidal energy innovations. In 2013, the country set a goal of being 100 percent renewable by 2020. In 2018, the country's record-breaking wind power output was enough to power five million homes; by 2019, wind power produced enough to power two Scotlands. In 2016, the world's largest tidal energy farm launched in Scotland, and in 2020, the country boasted the world's largest tidal array of underwater turbines.
By the start of 2020, the country was on track to meet its ambitious goal. As of November, Scotland had surpassed 90 percent renewables, BBC reported. More recent calculations could show that Scotland has met its target.
In its push toward net-zero, the Scottish government also banned selling new cars powered solely by gas or diesel by 2032, spurring the domestic need to develop new sources of clean energy to power vehicles, Maritime Journal reported. The government backed many of these innovations, including Nova's project, as part of its clean energy transition and fight against the climate crisis.
Scotland will also host the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 this November in Glasgow.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, said, "It's fantastic to see that Nova Innovation is demonstrating yet again that Scotland remains at the forefront of developments in zero-emission transport solutions... This type of innovation is key in responding to the global climate emergency and highlights the opportunities that can be realized here in Scotland as we transition to a net-zero economy."
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Heavy duty electric trucks (a.k.a. semis) cost so much less to operate per mile than diesel-powered trucks at today's prices that they would pay for themselves in just three years, according to a new report by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley.
Electrifying heavy-duty trucks would substantially improve air quality.
Semis account for just 11% of vehicles on the road, but more than half of carbon pollution and 71% of deadly particulate pollution.
At today's costs, electric semis could cost 13% less per mile than a comparable diesel-powered truck, and could cost just half as much per mile by 2030 with the right mix of policy.
For a deeper dive:
Bavarian carmaker BMW, owner of the iconic Mini range since 1994, plans solely electric versions from 2030, reported Der Spiegel magazine on Friday.
No more combustion models and not even hybrids would emerge next decade, added BMW sources cited by the German news agency dpa.
Currently, BMW's only full electric version is the Mini Cooper SE, built at its subsidiary in Oxford, alongside the SUV Mini Countryman as a plug-in hybrid.
From 2023, the sport utility Countryman would emerge as a full-electric version from BMW's works in Leipzig, according to Friday's media coverage.
EU Urged to Boost Charging Stations
BMW chief Oliver Zipse, who on Thursday called on the EU to ensure 1 million public charging points by 2024, would detail his company's plans next week while presenting its financial results, Spiegel reported.
Three million charging points for electric vehicles were needed by 2029 to boost EU consumer confidence in the motorization switch, said Zipse, who is also president of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA).
Originally, the Mini was a series of British low-slung small cars manufactured from 1969 by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), later part of British Leyland and then the Rover Group.
BMW split up Rover in 2000 but retained ownership of the Mini brand, purchased six years previously, giving the Mini series a new phase of life.
Last year, 292,000 Mini vehicles were sold, mainly combustion fuel models, alongside 6% electric and 11% hybrid versions.
Aside from an electric Mini due in Leipzig in 2023, a further full-electric version is to be manufactured for China by BMW's joint venture partner Great Wall.
On Wednesday, the German government agreed on a draft law to establish 1,000 fast-charging stations alongside motorways by the end of 2023 at an estimated cost of €2 billion ($2.4 billion).
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Tara Lohan
The internal combustion engine had a good run. It helped get us to where we need to go for more than a century, but its days as the centerpiece of the automotive industry are waning.
As countries work to cut greenhouse gas emissions, electrification is stealing the limelight.
While there's still a long road ahead — electric vehicles only accounted for 3% of global car sales in 2020 — EV growth is finally climbing. From 2010 to 2019 the number of EVs on the road rose from 17,000 to 7.2 million. And that number could jump to 250 million by 2030, according to an estimate from the International Energy Agency.
The growing demand for electric vehicles is good news for limiting climate emissions from the transportation sector, but EVs still come with environmental costs. Of particular concern is the materials needed to make the ever-important batteries, some of which are already projected to be in short supply.
"Climate change is our greatest and most pressing challenge, but there are some perilous pathways to be aware of as we build out the infrastructure that gets us to a new low-carbon paradigm," says Douglas McCauley, a professor and director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara.
One of those perilous pathways, he says, is mining the seafloor to extract minerals like cobalt and nickel that are widely used for EV batteries. Extraction of these materials has thus far been limited to land, but international regulations for mining the deep seabed far offshore are in development.
"There's alignment on the need to go as fast as we can with low-carbon infrastructure to beat climate change and electrification will play a big part in that," he says. "But the idea that we need to mine the oceans in order to do that is, I think, a very false dichotomy."
Supply and Demand
Tesla may have made owning an EV cool, but a slew of other companies now hope to make it commonplace.
Chevy Bolt charging beside a Nissan Leaf. Steve Rainwater / CC BY-SA 2.0
The latest is Volvo, which announced at the beginning of March that it will make only electric cars by 2030. This follows news that Jaguar will be all-electric in 2025 and Volkswagen after 2026. General Motors says it's aiming to make its cars and light trucks electric by 2035, while Ford is doubling its investments in EVs and plans to sell only electric cars in Europe by 2030.
There are a number of factors that will determine how quickly people adopt the technology — charging infrastructure, battery range, affordability — but top of mind for some is manufacturers' ability to keep production pace, particularly when it comes to the lithium-ion batteries that are used in not just EVs but other technologies like cell phones and laptops, as well as energy storage for solar and wind.
A 2019 study by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney found that demand for lithium could exceed supply by next year, which would drive up prices and interest in more lithium mining. Demand for cobalt and nickel, also key battery components, will exceed production in less than a decade.
"Cobalt is the metal of most concern for supply risks as it has highly concentrated production and reserves, and batteries for EVs are expected to be the main end-use of cobalt in only a few years," the report's authors found.
Vying for control of these crucial materials has geopolitical implications. Right now, many of the materials are concentrated in a few nations' hands.
Most of the cobalt used in batteries today is claimed by China from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where extraction has come with human rights abuses and environmental degradation. Most of the global lithium supply is found in Australia, Chile and Argentina.
Supply-chain issues have also caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who issued an executive order in February directing the secretary of Energy to identify "risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries, and policy recommendations to address these risks."
As pressure mounts to claim terrestrial minerals, commercial interest is growing to extract resources from the deep seabed, where there's an abundance of metals like copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, lead and lithium. Investors already expect profits: One deep-sea mining company recently announced a plan to go public after merging with an investment group, creating a corporation with an expected $2.9 billion market value.
But along with that focus comes increased warnings about the damage such extraction could do to ocean health, and whether the sacrifice is even necessary.
The Deep Unknown
The high seas are "areas beyond national jurisdiction," and mining their depths will be managed by an intergovernmental body called the International Seabed Authority.
The group has already approved 28 mining contracts covering more than a million square kilometers (360,000 square miles). It's still drafting the standards and regulations for operations, but when companies get the go-ahead they'll be after three different mineral-rich targets: potato-sized polymetallic nodules, seafloor massive sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts.
But there's also concern that we still don't adequately understand the risks of operating giant underwater tractors along the seafloor.
"There are a lot of conversations about the real risks and unanswered questions about ocean mining," says McCauley. "There's now more than 90 NGOs that have come out and said that we need a moratorium on ocean mining and we shouldn't be sprinting to do this until we are able to answer some of the serious questions about the impact of mining on ocean health."
The deep sea is one of the least-explored places on the planet, but we know that these dark depths are teeming with life and are interconnected with other parts of the ocean ecosystem, despite often being 10,000 feet deep or more.
"These spaces out in the high seas, which include undersea mountain ranges, are really quite biodiverse and they're full of very unique species," says McCauley.
The deep seabed is also home to countless species we don't even know exist yet and a large diversity of carbon-absorbing microbes that build the base of the ocean's food chain.
Extracting minerals from the deep sea could put thousands of these species at risk from the direct impacts of the mining operations, as well as the associated light and noise. Plumes of sediment from discarded mining waste pose another danger.
"Those plumes could be quite large and persistent and could have a smothering effect on ocean life," says McCauley.
That could even be bad for those of us onshore.
A report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature found that "the loss of primary production, for example, could affect global fisheries, threatening the main protein source of around 1 billion people and the livelihoods of around 200 million people, many in poor coastal communities."
There's also the potential that mining the deep seabed could affect our ability to cope with a changing climate. Currently the deep sea is what McCauley calls "a big bank of safely stored carbon." He says "there's a lot of unanswered questions about what would happen if you actually started redistributing that carbon back into circulation in the oceans. This isn't the time that we want to be doing grand new experiments in an ecosystem like the ocean, which is our biggest ally in storing carbon."
Another big concern is the ability of the deep ocean ecosystem to recover from disturbance.
"It's such a special place biologically and physically," he says. "It's essentially a slice of the planet where life just moves slower and in a way that we don't see anywhere else."
Species at these depths tend to live a long time, take a while to reproduce and have low fertility rates. "And that means that life recovers more slowly than the other parts of the planet," he adds.
A small-scale simulated mining experiment done in 1989 proved just that. "Scientists have returned to the site four times, most recently in 2015," an article in Nature explained. "The site has never recovered. In the ploughed areas, which remain as visible today as they were 30 years ago, there's been little return of characteristic animals such as sponges, soft corals and sea anemones."
In order to keep heavy machinery off the ocean floor, McCauley says we can look to promising developments in battery technologies that are helping to reduce the amount of supply chain-constrained material, like cobalt.
Most of the people designing new battery technologies probably don't have deep-sea biodiversity at the top of their minds, he says. "They're designing it because these batteries are cheaper, more stable and have similar performance capabilities."
Still, the end result could help make the case for holding off on plundering the ocean's riches.
Cobalt has long been considered a key stabilizing component in lithium-ion batteries, but new chemistries have begun to whittle down the amount of cobalt needed. EV batteries containing the previous mix of equal parts nickel, manganese and cobalt in the cathode — or negatively charged electrode — can now be replaced with 80% nickel, 10% manganese and 10% cobalt. These batteries, known as NMC 811, are already being used in electric vehicles in China.
"So we've reduced the amount of cobalt from 33% down to 10%, but if you look at the projections of electric vehicles by 2030, it's going to be hard to have even 10% cobalt in the cathode because of the limited cobalt reserves that are available," says Matthew Keyser, a mechanical engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
That means that new developments are now trying to move away from cobalt entirely. But that may end up shifting demand to another metal — nickel, which is fast becoming the most valued mineral for EV batteries and could still put the ocean on the target list.
Batteries made with lithium manganese oxide or lithium iron phosphate are new alternatives that don't require nickel, but Keyser says they're still not ideal.
"They have lower energy densities and they don't work as well in vehicles," he says. "The ultimate thing that we're all trying to [achieve] is a battery with lithium sulfur, because sulfur is widely available."
Working out the kinks in that technology is still five or 10 years away, he estimates.
Beyond changing the chemical composition of batteries, we can also help reduce demand pressure on scarce minerals in other ways.
"Instead of mining the oceans we can do a better job of mining the wrecking yards where EVs will be, which is to say doing a better job with recycling batteries," says McCauley.
Currently only about 5% to 10% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled. In part that's because the process is still more expensive than acquiring most of the raw materials. It's also complex because the different variations of lithium-ion batteries on the market today each require a different recycling process.
But earnest efforts are underway to sort that out. One is Redwood Materials, started by Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel, which says it's the largest battery recycler in North America and can recover 95-98% of elements in batteries like nickel, cobalt, lithium and copper.
There's concern that recycling can't meet short-term demand because there aren't enough batteries ready for recycling yet, but researchers believe it will be useful as a long-term solution for reducing scarcity.
"Recycling is going to be key," says Keyser. "It's going to be very important in the future and we need to do better than what we're doing right now."
Research also suggests that demand for EV cars with higher driving ranges increases the size of the batteries needed and influences the materials chosen to make them. But we can shift our technology, personal expectations and driving behavior.
Fast charge stations for electric cars in Canada. Duncan Rawlinson / CC BY-NC 2.0
"The introduction of shared-mobility services and establishing thorough charging networks can … significantly reduce material demand from the transport sector," the WWF report recommends. "Other technological developments that can reduce material demand are advances in widespread charging infrastructure to increase the range of small-sized battery EVs as well as improved battery management systems and software to increase battery efficiency."
McCauley hopes that a combination of advances will help take the pressure off sensitive ecosystems and that we don't rush into mining the seabed for short-term enrichment when better alternatives are on the horizon.
"One of my greatest fears is that we may start ocean mining because it's profitable for just a handful of years, and then we nail it with the next gen battery or we get good at doing low-cost e-waste recycling," he says. "And then we've done irreversible damage in the oceans for three years of profit."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Gambit Energy Storage LLC, a Tesla subsidiary, is building a 100 megawatt energy storage project in Arlington, Texas, outside of Houston. The giant battery will plug into the Texas power grid, providing backup to a system that last month suffered a devastating failure when a severe winter storm knocked generation offline at the same time as demand soared.
Tesla introduced its Powerwall home batteries in 2016; the Gambit battery would store enough energy to power 20,000 homes during summer peak hours, and is expected to be operational on June 1st. Blackouts are becoming increasingly common as climate change exposes the energy grid's vulnerability to climate change, and battery-supported microgrids are increasingly seen as a critical backup for lifesaving systems.
As reported by NPR:
Like falling dominos, infrastructure around Texas, dependent on electricity, began failing in the extreme cold. In Austin, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant shut down due to an electrical failure. That, combined with low water pressure from broken pipes, meant residents had to boil their water.
Blackouts are becoming increasingly common as extreme weather causes electricity demand to skyrocket, while simultaneously damaging the aging electric grid. Climate change-driven disasters, like more intense storms and hurricanes, only increase that risk.
So, some communities are looking for new ways to ensure that vulnerable people and infrastructure can withstand power outages. They're installing solar panels and large batteries to create tiny "microgrids" that continue working when the larger grid goes dark.
Some are being sited at crucial facilities, like water treatment plants, hospitals and emergency response centers. Smaller battery systems also aid people who rely on life-saving medical equipment at home. While electric utilities traditionally invest in keeping up the electric grid, disaster experts say they need to also explore newer solutions, adapted to extreme weather, for when the grid falters and can't be repaired fast.
"These natural disasters and disruptive events are going to continue," says Eliza Hotchkiss, senior resilience analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "We're seeing them, especially in hurricanes, happening more frequently with greater intensity. So we just can't bury our heads in the sand and ignore that this is a thing that's happening, because it will just continue to disrupt our lives."
For a deeper dive:
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
Some of the opposition will come from auto companies that want to delay the transition to electric vehicles, but others will be from fossil fuel interests or climate deniers. But it really doesn't matter why they're trying to mislead the public about electric vehicles.The important thing is that you know that this is familiar and worn-out disinformation, designed to sow doubt and confusion. Here are some of the truths about EVs, so that you can spot misleading attacks.
1. EVs aren't the perfect solution for the future of transportation – they're just much, much better than gasoline vehicles.
EVs offer us a way to have personal mobility with much fewer global warming emissions than gasoline vehicles. It's clear that the emissions from driving on electricity are lower than those from using a gasoline vehicle, even when accounting for electricity generation. Our most recent analysis shows that, across the country, driving electric is cleaner than even the most efficient gasoline car. As our electric grid continues to get cleaner (with lower coal use and more renewable energy sources), the climate benefit from electric vehicles is increasing. And, of course, because they avoid burning gasoline, electric vehicles can reduce tailpipe emissions that lead to harmful air pollution across the country and put us on the path to reducing the pollution and environmental degradation that is associated with extracting and refining petroleum.
Of course, there are emissions from building every vehicle. Because of battery manufacturing, climate emissions from building electric vehicles are slightly higher those from manufacturing a gasoline vehicle. However, those increased emissions are quickly (within 6 to 16 months depending on location) made up from the savings from using electricity in place of gasoline. As we increase the production of EVs, it will be important to work to minimize manufacturing emissions by reducing energy use in the extraction and preparation of battery materials and by the recycling and reuse of used batteries.
It will also be important to hold all companies to environmental and human rights standards for their manufacturing and supply chains. Auto companies and battery suppliers need to source products and raw materials in a sustainable and ethical way. Greater transparency from manufacturers would be helpful in this area. Some have started to disclose details on their supply chain and make commitments to improve their practices. We also need to remember this goes beyond electric cars; we should be asking the same sorts of questions about our consumer-electronics companies and yes even the companies that produce and extract petroleum products and other fossil fuels.
2. EV sales are a small fraction of U.S. autos now, but that's going to change.
A common line used to argue against EVs is that they have historically made up a small fraction of the sales in the U.S. and therefore they can't possibly make a difference in our emissions. Others try to use the fact that fewer EVs were sold than gasoline cars to mean that EV's just aren't very popular.
These backwards-looking approaches could be used to dismiss any new technology, not just EVs. For example, in 2000 only 2.5% of households had broadband internet access. Of course that didn't mean that home internet wasn't going to be a transformative technology. We can't look in the rear view mirror to see the road ahead for EVs.
It's obvious if we look back 10 years ago that the number and the capability of EVs was not at the level needed to replace gasoline vehicles. The good news is that in 2021, the EV landscape is vastly changed from even 5 years ago. New car buyers now have multiple options for long range EVs and can choose compelling options from more automakers than ever before. Currently, plug in cars make up about 2 percent of all sales in the U.S., but the number is higher in areas that have sought to accelerate the market via regulation and incentives. For example, in California, EV sales were over 8% of all new car sales in the state, showing the potential for higher sales elsewhere in the country with the use regulations, incentives, and customer awareness efforts.
3. EVs are much more than the Tesla Model S.
Tesla gets the lion's share of attention in the EV market, and for good reason. Tesla has led in plug-in car sales and the introduction of the Tesla Model S in 2012 changed many people's impression of what an electric car is. While some may have thought EVs were "golf carts", unstylish, or boring before, it would be hard to apply those labels to Tesla's Model S. However, Tesla's success (and press coverage) has now meant that the Tesla brand or the Model S is used synonymously with "EV."
Tesla has been a game changer in the EV market, but there are many more plug-in options now than the Tesla Model S. We're seeing many more affordable EVs on the market, though they often get much less press coverage. As more automakers introduce EV models and production volumes of plug-in vehicles increase, we are seeing even long-range battery electric cars being offered for lower than the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) of the average new car in the U.S. (estimated to be over $40,000 in 2019). The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a base model MSRP under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000. Those who are critical of EVs would like to portray all plug-ins as high-priced luxury vehicles, but that simply isn't the case in 2021. Both here and abroad, automakers are increasing electric vehicle production, pushing down prices and making more options available to buyers.
Despite the proliferation of anti-EV arguments in the press, these arguments are old and long-debunked — dubious even when they were introduced, but downright silly after a decade of advancement in the EV market.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
Now is the time to accelerate the switch to EVs.
With the impacts of climate change becoming more evident every year and the clear science on the health harms of air pollution, it's imperative that we switch from gasoline to electric vehicles as soon as possible. To make this happen, we need to use all of the policy tools available.
Federal and state incentives are vital in the short term to make buying EVs easier for more people. Battery prices (and therefore EV prices) are dropping as the scale of production ramps up, but incentives are vital now to offset the extra initial cost of EVs.
We also need to use existing greenhouse gas emissions and air quality regulations to make sure the aspirations of automakers to go electric become reality. This means setting both strong federal standards for emissions and using California's authority under the Clean Air Act to require zero emission vehicles. Because the Clean Air Act also allows other states to adopt the California standards, there are now 11 states representing 30% of the U.S. population now moving forward with zero emission clean car standards to reduce their residents' exposure to tailpipe pollution and put their states on a path to lower carbon emissions and more states are poised to enact these standards.
Some have argued that we shouldn't rush this transition or wait until electricity and EVs are perfectly clean to start rolling out electric vehicles. There might be value in those propositions if there was not such urgency in the need to reduce emissions and clear costs for delay. Every gasoline vehicle we put on the road today means 10 to 20 years of pollution over its lifetime, and the climate-warming tailpipe pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere accumulate over time. If we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we can't afford to keep putting tailpipes on the road.
David Reichmuth is a senior engineer in the Clean Transportation Program with the Union of Concerned Scientists, focusing on oil savings and vehicle electrification.
Reposted with permission from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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