Important reading for virtue-signaling electric car-drivers

One of the most comforting fantasies common to affluent liberals is that they are "saving the world" by driving an expensive rechargeable electric car.  In fact, they are doing the opposite, with their desire to signal their virtue causing intense human suffering on the part of some of the most powerless people on the planet.

They overlook the fact that 39% of America's electricity comes from coal-fired generation and that owing to losses of energy in transmission, more hydrocarbons must be burned than if gasoline were used to power the car directly.

But if you believe, as I do, that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a trivial concern because any rise causes more plant life to flourish and consume more CO2, an equilibrating mechanism characteristic of the power of Mother Nature, then this is more a matter of particulates emitted in the burning of coal than it is of CO2, and the non-polluting advantage goes to gasoline power.

My worries about rechargeable electric cars center on the toxic raw materials needed to manufacture powerful lithium-ion batteries, which are the most expensive component of electric vehicles.  For one thing, when a battery is spent (and they do wear out after a certain number of recharges), recycling the heavy metals and other ingredients is expensive, dangerous, and absolutely necessary.  Putting these batteries in a landfill is the last thing any decent human being wants, but it is far, far cheaper than properly disposing of the time bomb that is a lithium-ion battery.

Of all the raw materials necessary for these batteries, probably the most problematic is cobalt.  All the smug, affluent drivers of Teslas, Nissan Leafs, and BMW i3s (the most popular models in Berkeley) need to think about how the cobalt in their batteries got to the factory.  The U.K. Daily Mail reports:

Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state [i.e., the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. It is the world's biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet's reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.

The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb). ...

The UN's International Labour Organisation has described cobalt mining in DRC as 'one of the worst forms of child labour' due to the health risks.

Soil samples taken from the mining area by doctors at the University of Lubumbashi, the nearest city, show the region to be among the ten most polluted in the world. Residents near mines in southern DRC had urinary concentrates of cobalt 43 higher than normal. Lead levels were five times higher, cadmium and uranium four times higher.

With China now officially committed to transforming its vehicle fleet and becoming the world's dominant producer of electric cars, demand for cobalt will skyrocket, and there will be a lot more work for people at the cobalt mines in Katanga:

No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels. Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant.

When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall.

Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen's head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Dorsen's friend Richard, 11, said that at the end of a working day 'everything hurts'.

Dorsen and 11-year-old Richard are pictured.  With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush, and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.

Given the level of human suffering imposed by battery production, the lavish subsidies to buyers of electric cars cannot be justified.  And the faces of those kids do drive away the smug factor I see on the faces of so many drivers of the rechargeable beasts.

Drive gasoline-powered cars, and do it for the children!


Normal Rogers writes:

I think your claim that is more efficient to burn gasoline directly rather than charge the battery of an electric car from a coal generating plant is wrong.

A modern coal plant has an efficiency of about 40% - 40% of the energy in the coal is converted into electricity. About 17% of the energy is lost in battery efficiency and 5% due to transmission losses. I estimate 3% is lost in the electric motor.

This works out that 30% of the energy in the coal drives the car. It would be 45% with a combined cycle natural gas generating plant.

On the other had, assuming a car as heavy as the Tesla (4500 lbs) that gets 25 miles per gallon, that car requires about 0.23 kilowatt hour per mile of mechanical energy to drive it. I arrive at 0.23 kWh because the Tesla with a 50 kWh battery has a range of 220 miles. The gasoline car will burn 1/25th gallon of gas per mile. 1/25th gallon of gas has 1.46 kWh of energy. The efficiency is then 0.23/1.46 = 16% - half that of the Tesla driven by coal.

As far as particulates go I think the danger is exaggerated. In any case modern coal plants are extremely clean and are also located away from metro areas.

You are a bit heavy on cobalt because there are alternatives and in principle it could be mined without the bad karma that exists in the Congo.

If we compared that Tesla to a lighter gasoline car that is as big but weights 3000 lb, then the milage might be 37 mpg instead of 25 and efficiency would be 24% instead of 16%, better but still not as good as the electric car. There are gasoline cars that get over 50 mpg.

I am not a fan of electric cars because they are too expensive, take too long to recharge, and the batteries wear out. The real test of cars is cost, convenience and operating costs.

Electric cars would be more practical if the batteries weighed and cost 1/2 or 1/4 as much, lasted for the life of the car, and could be recharged in 5 minutes.

Hat tip: Trevor Collins

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