Porsche Taycan Turbo S with mountain bike on the roof

We have enough minerals for a century of EVs

I like to look for inspiring or hopeful articles lately. I recently discovered an article about the future of renewable energy sources. TLDR breakdown is that solar, wind, battery storage, and electrolyzers are all on technological learning curves that will make them so cheap that it won’t matter how the world governments incentive those segments because they will make more financial sense to utilize them.

Rivian R1S & R1T in the fog

A hopeful topic; the world being run on reliable, cheap, renewable energy. Sounds like a dream of the future and it still is. The article did not have any indication about when we would see these technologies. It only stated that eventually, they would be cheap enough to be the answer.

There was a nugget of information buried in the article that did relate to cars. When discussing the future of electric vehicles, Kingsman Bond of the Carbon Tracker think tank, addressed the possibility of mineral shortages slowing the production of EVs. He referred to this as a “bogus problem.” Stating that there is enough lithium in reserves currently to build EVs for a century at the current demand. That current demand is the tricky part there. Obviously, if demand increases, then the years that Lithium would last would decrease. He also stated that there is enough cobalt to build 1,000 million cars. That seems like a lot.

Source: Canary Media

The main reason he doesn’t see minerals as an issue with EVs is that most of the important components of an EV are actually recyclable. It does take more minerals to build an EV than an ICE car. Those minerals are recyclable at the end of the EV’s lifecycle. An average ICE car is using 15,000 kg of oil/fuel and we aren’t getting any of that back.

The article does not get into the topics of responsible mining practices or exploiting labor to mine the potentially higher-demand minerals. Those appear to be problems of the future too. Give it a read. It was a nice change of pace to the normal doom and gloom of the world.

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11 responses to “We have enough minerals for a century of EVs”

  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter”
    Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, 1954

    Well, maybe in Captain Kirk’s lifetime, but not mine. Also it’s one thing to say that EV waste is recyclable, and another to explain how that can be done profitably.

  2. Sjoomanywords Avatar

    Thanks for sharing a positive spin! It is quite reasonable to assume that the EV revolution will go down well. The fewest would have expected gas stations on every other corner and a fabulous, high speed road network in 1900 either.

    For the moment though, there’ll be hiccups. Current need for minerals is nowhere near a full EV vehicle market (even Norway is barely at 80% for personal vehicles). So the “current” number is pointless. “1000 million” would, among serious people be considered a billion. I can’t accept strange numbers.

    And the current state of energy production is dire, especially in Urop and China. Norway is close to 100% hydropower, and the cheap, publicly owned power used to be one of our biggest competitive advantages. Normally, we’d pay about 50 øre/kWh as a yearly average. With the current energy squeeze, our country now being connected to Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the UK, hydropower lakes have been emptied very profitably during the summer and we’re out of juice. We’re seeing prices of up to 280 øre/kWh now, from a record low of 2-3 øre/kWh last year with lots of snow/water and few export cables online.

    The point is, during the EV revolution, my city, 2nd biggest in the country, Bergen, has increased its total electricity consumption with the amount of electricity the country’s 3rd city, nanoop’s Trondheim, used to consume. And this is going to rise. Norwegian families already consume about 22000 kWh/year, in contrast to Germansat 4-5000 kWh (they also use gas and other energy sources).

    In my mind, we need to move away from the “power station” mindset that is wrecking the environment in all sorts of ways, and straining transmission capacity everywhere. Get those solar panels and mini turbines out on every family home and city building. We need more zip zap zoom juice generated where it’s needed, and that really rather quick.

    1. Lokki Avatar

      Predictions such are the “100 Year Supply” are fun to make, but meaningless. The time scale is simply too long. The lithium supply forecast is based on an assumption that nothing will change either in the design of batteries or in the mining mechanisms for obtaining it….or the demand for it. The whole thing is like someone in 1822 predicting that the is roughly a maximum hundred year supply of whales for whale oil. I am confident that similar forecasts were made in 1860 about the supply of coal. Stephenson’s Rocket-an early practical steam locomotive- was built in 1829. For all intents and purposes steam locomotives were obsolete 120 years later replaced by oil burning locomotives.

      We all know about the “running out of oil” forecasts that remain at “only 50 years worth” and have remained at that 50 year supply forecast for 75 years now. Pundits failed take into account the improvements in extraction technology (e.g. fracking and horizontal drilling) which made previously unviable reserves available.

      Still we will probably run out of oil eventually, and even the forecast “600 year supply” of natural gas will be exhausted (however see above for the value of such time based forecasts). It seems possible, and perhaps probable that give 100 years to develop the technology hydro-methane will become a practical source of carbon fuels.

      U.S., Japan inch toward unlocking vast new source of natural gas

      In each case drawn from history so far the supply problem has been overtaken by events – by the introduction of different fuel sources substituting for scarcer or less efficient sources. For now-burgeoning electric cars, I would expect, given 100 years to work in, batteries that use some more common material than lithium will become common and cheap, and wind and solar power will be improved or overtaken by events.

      I am also optimistic that nuclear power will become common and practical – nuclear power technology is literally in its infancy. “…On June 27, 1954, the Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant in the USSR became the world’s first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid, producing around 5 megawatts of electric power. The world’s first commercial nuclear power station, Calder Hall at Windscale, England was connected to the national power grid on 27 August 1956.” There are literally people posting on this website who are older than nuclear power. To suggest that nuclear power can never be safe is like suggesting that ships or trains should never have used steam power because a lot of early boilers tended to explode. Yes, the scale of a nuclear problem is much larger and much much more serious. However, the fact that a few early designs have not been good enough does not in any way preclude improvements from being possible.

      TLDR, people tend to underestimate the fact that things can change a lot in 100 years.

    2. OA5599 Avatar

      You wrote: “So the ‘current’ number is pointless. ‘1000 million’ would, among serious people be considered a billion. I can’t accept strange numbers.”

      Note that the think tank that wrote the opinion has an address in London. In the past, the UK “billion” referred to one million millions, equivalent to the US (and other parts of the world) definition of a trillion. More recently, the UK has also adopted that definition of a billion being 1/1000 the size of how they used to define it, but there are still a lot of people around that learned it the old way. When the article used the term “1000 million”, that number is unambiguous, regardless of the era when you attended grammar school.


      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Ha, I stand corrected and learned something today. Thanks!

  3. mdharrell Avatar

    Among the several things that I repeat unremittingly towards my students until they finally capitulate and confess to enjoying my lectures is that an ore deposit is not so much a geologic concept as it is an economic one. An ore, to be an ore, must be capable of being put to use at a profit. If it costs more to find, extract, process, and transport the material than can be made back by, say, selling it, then it isn’t an ore deposit no matter how much of it there is. Consequently, for pretty much any geologic material it’s less a question of “running out” than it is a question of “running out of the part that’s relatively easy to get and sell.” The trick of course is that as either demand changes or our ability to get the stuff changes, or both, then the definition of “relatively easy” can swing back and forth considerably. There are certainly absolute limits based on the ultimately finite nature of our planet but for most geologic materials we’re nowhere near that point.

    The definition of a reserve typically takes the economics of all this into account, so to say that we have a century’s worth of lithium reserves at current demand doesn’t necessarily mean that we’d run out of lithium faster if demand increases. Instead, an increased demand would mean that formerly unprofitable sources (which therefore weren’t counted in the reserve) would become profitable to pursue. The technologically accessible parts of our planet have a lot more lithium than what is considered to be in the current estimate of reserves, so it’s mostly a matter of whether we have a reason to really want to go after it.

    I don’t actually have a point in saying all this; I just wanted to practice my rant before my next lecture.

    1. OA5599 Avatar

      Do we have to know this for the exam?

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Certainly not! I’ve found that it’s usually much easier, and sometimes much more entertaining, to grade the exams of students who aren’t familiar with the material.

        1. OA5599 Avatar

          When I was a student, I had a class where the final exam was 100% of the semester’s grade. There was a mandatory practice exam around the middle of the term. It wasn’t graded, but the prof reviewed the exams and handed out copies of what she thought were examples of an excellent exam, a very good one, a mediocre one, and one that might have merited a barely passing (or not) grade. Consensus among my classmates was that the most thought-out answers were on the third exam, and the one she identified as excellent should have been in third place. Then we realized they had been ranked based on penmanship.

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            Oh, I would never do that. I only teach within the quarter system.

    2. Salguod Avatar

      This is actually helpful info. More so than the meaningless 100 years of lithium stat or the tech is going to get cheaper platitudes. Who cares what we have at current demand when we know that demand is going to be 10x that in a couple of decades. Understanding what “current reserves” means helps because there’s a reasonable expectation that demand will push the tech to find new reserves.

      But understanding the barriers to that new tech, and new solar, battery, etc tech, can also be helpful. More so than simple declarations of advancing tech. Are there specific challenges that will be particularly difficult to overcome or are we talking about general technical advancement?

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