The Lithium-Ion Battery Conspiracy or the Cobalt FUD Factor
BY Andre Labonte
After my blog/ post last month about our electric car experiences I came across a couple of people who had some questions regarding the whole ‘dangers of battery chemicals” and even some questions about the ethics of mining metals such as cobalt and nickel in countries that might not have the best track record when it comes to human rights practices. I found a couple of interesting articles regarding how information both good and bad is disseminated.
When we talk about the coming age of electrics a lot of misinformation seems to be floating around out there on the internet, and even the mainstream news media for that matter. Some of it is just incorrect information by well-intentioned individuals and organizations with incomplete facts. Some, however, are intentioned misinformation, the spinning of a counter reality narrative commonly referred to as FUD or fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The term is normally used to evoke a degree of uncertainty about a topic and is done intentionally in order to cloud the topics real underlying facts, sow unrest, or put a competitor or an idea at a disadvantage.
“the FUD factor”
There is a great example of this in a video from the Fuelling U.S. Forward, Organization, a group that attempts to pull at the public’s heartstrings by showing child labour and abuses in the Congo and other poor 3rd world countries. Fuelling U.S. Forward, which by all accounts is supposed to be a grassroots group (but is, in reality, an AstroTurf plant…I’ll define AstroTurf in this context down below) is actually run by an oil lobbyist, Charles Drevena, and the group’s primary purpose is to promote the fossil fuel industry. To quite literately no one’s real surprise the organization is funded by none other than the Koch brothers.
The Koch brothers, in case you don’t know, are two of America’s most eccentric billionaires, having made their vast fortunes primarily in the oil and gas industry. As such they have been vocal advocates and have developed a certain notoriety for having been on this tact for some time, initially attacking EV subsidies (although the fossil fuel industry itself has enjoyed substantial subsidizing for many, many years), then turning to an attempt to convince the public that electric cars are dirtier than ICE cars due to the electricity’s energy source (a topic which has been debunked more times than I can possibly count). Of course, the real clincher is they fail to mention that their fossil fuel efforts are what has been causing the pollution in the first place.
‘video didn’t kill the EV star’ but FUD certainly might
The new video attempts to convince us that electric cars are more toxic to humans than traditional gas vehicles. The video focuses on the mining of rare-earth metals used for lithium-ion battery production. However, it references cobalt and lithium, neither of which are in fact rare earth metals. It also forgets to mention that these metals are used in lithium-ion batteries in basically everything else that we use today; specifically, laptops and mobile phones, but even toys, pacemakers, digital cameras, watches, and a vast number of other devices use these batteries as well.
It goes on to say that these metals can be mined by children in Congo and other areas, and cause birth defects, illness, and pollution. This is actually true, though electric car companies are aware of this and have made efforts to combat it. As a result, leading automotive and electronics companies have announced various efforts to trace the source of cobalt in recent months:
- Apple, HP, Samsung SDI, and Sony have joined the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.
- The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), whose members include Apple, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Foxconn, Honda, and Ford Motors, has recently revealed the “Responsible Raw Materials Initiative.”
Most notably the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, created by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, is aimed directly at promoting cooperation with the government of the Congo. Its members have pledged to follow Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for mining in supply chains, which calls for companies to track how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Any abuses uncovered in the process would require immediate correction.
This latest initiative from China comes after the country announced a 2014 memorandum of understanding with the OECD, China’s first major effort to promote responsible sourcing. These are great initiatives and are beginning to have the desired effect but what we see from major media who in many cases have been co-opted by the major oil lobby is only the one-dimensional story told with serious omissions in order to sow…you guessed it FUD.
The Fuelling Forward group, for example, fails to mention in the video or anywhere else that cobalt is also used in refining oil, and that cerium, the other metal mentioned in the video, is in fact used in (internal combustion engine) ICE, cars for their catalytic converters.
‘recycling…. the myth’
Finally, Fuelling U.S. Forward wants us to think that all batteries that are used in EV’s end up in landfills. This again is untrue since these batteries are recycled. Actually they have serious potential for grid storage after their electric car use as they may still have 75% of their energy storage still intact. In the end, it would be crazy not to recycle them since it’s a whole lot easier to mine a used battery than it is to mine the earth. Also, the batteries last a very long time, so this is not really an issue. I wonder how many ICE cars or ICE car parts end up in landfills? Questions for another article.
When it comes down to it everything we as humans do has some environmental impact. To say that mining has no impact would be a lie, but to say that there aren’t better solutions and many that aren’t already underway would be just as much of a lie, or perhaps a lie at least a degree of magnitude larger. We need to tread softly on this planet of ours, we are beginning to see the impact when we use our big feet to stomp on mother nature. I don’t think she is taking it lying down. The mining that is taking place is for a myriad of products, including gas mobiles. Electric cars are not dirtier than gas cars, nor are they more dangerous to humans, the jury is not out on that…in fact, they, and the judge have left the building.
Sources: I’d like to thank
Hybrid Cars: Fuelling U.S. Forward
Source Intelligence- Technology Companies, China Pledge to Stop Human Rights Abuses in Cobalt Mining