The age of the electric car is upon us, which means all of our futures may soon depend on a battery.
But just how good an idea is it for us to rely on them?
5 things you need to know:
- Electric car batteries are largely made of lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper — metals we have to mine, some at great cost and not just to the environment. Cobalt, for instance, is often mined by children in Central Africa in appalling conditions.
- California has led the charge toward converting fully to electric vehicles by 2035. So, demand for battery metals is setting up a race for security, meaning countries with greater access to them will hold the keys to the future — and if your country doesn’t, you may be seriously in danger of running flat.
- The U.S. has turned its focus to unearthing these metals closer to home, like in California’s own Salton Sea — or off the Pacific Coast — by scraping the seabed, or mainland mining. But those sources are not without their environmental impact, creating waste, contamination and even disrupting the life cycle of the oceans themselves.
- As most modern electric car batteries will last for around 20 years, recycling makes sense, although it's expensive and either involves burning and melting or dunking the battery in acid — largely because of the way that they're made. Simply put, it’s hard to get to the metals you want to recycle.
- Recycling can always get cheaper and cheaper. Over 90% of regular car batteries can now be recycled and reused. But some people around the world are doing that in toxic, environmentally unsafe conditions.
The key to a safer and cleaner future will be finding a way to make and store energy cheaply, efficiently and without the need to scour our Earth, displace our people or impact their health just because we want the latest car or gadget. This may require a global push to create the ultimate battery — one that won’t leave us rundown, out of gas or out of time.