Editorial June 2nd 2023
Welcome to this week’s editorial, When it comes to EV cars I am reminded of the ‘Snake Oil sellers’ of old who would spruik the many virtues of their product, extolling the benefits but failing to give detail of the side effects. One of the first glaring issues around EVs is the fact that electricity costs are soaring. Not all EVs can charge at the free stations and commercial charging stations are charging out at a unit cost greater than available to the home owner. A major issue in Australia is that the bulk of our electricity is still derived from aging coal power plants and with less on line the unit cost will continue to soar until renewables are able to offer a stable supply. Tied directly to this is the family EV car. Just like petrol, the cost of recharging and the economy of the car is something that needs to be carefully weighed. Presently, if you spend the $1500 to install a home charger and charge your car overnight on off peak then the savings compared to petrol cars is more than noticeable. But the buy in is expensive and the cost on the planet is beginning to raise concerns. Are the Green EVs as green as they claim? The devil in the detail is Lithium. The darling of the modern world. Lithium is a non-renewable mineral. Its extraction is comparable to fossil fuels mining, resulting in soil degradation, water shortages, biodiversity loss, damage to ecosystem functions, and global warming (Campbell, 2022). This is mainly due to the production of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) that get released into the environment during the lithium mining process making the environmental impact of lithium mining quite significant. But no-one seems to mention this.
Nor do folks talk of the concerns around fire and recycling. Battery Recycling Failures: Recycling batteries from electric vehicles is essential to minimize environmental impact and recover valuable materials. However, there are a few challenges associated with battery recycling. The Battery Stewardship Council estimates that by 2036 Australians will dispose of between 137,000 and 186,000 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries annually. Presently only 6% of that is being recycled so there is a long way to go to lessen landfill. Research from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) forecast this to blow out to 360,000 tonnes by 2040, and 1.6 million tonnes by 2050. But no-one seems to mention this to prospective buyers endeavouring to lessen their own footprint on the planet. EV batteries contain complex chemistry, including lithium-ion and other materials. Separating and recovering these materials requires specialized processes and technologies that are not widely available. The lack of standardized recycling methods can lead to inefficiencies and hinder the recovery of valuable materials.
And then there are the safety concerns. EV batteries can be hazardous if mishandled during the recycling process. They can release toxic chemicals or pose a risk of fire or explosion. Ensuring worker safety and implementing proper handling procedures are crucial but can be challenging in some recycling facilities.
Battery fires in EVs are relatively rare, but they have garnered attention due to their potentially dangerous consequences. The main factors contributing to the risk of battery fires thermal runaway and crash-related incidents. As most emergency services are aware EV batteries are susceptible to a phenomenon called "thermal runaway" where a single cell failure can quickly spread to adjacent cells, leading to a rapid increase in 1. temperature. If not adequately controlled, this can result in a battery fire. Fire and Rescue NSW say they are “currently conducting research on how best to mitigate incidents involving these technologies and how best to respond to incidents when they occur. FRNSW also recommends that a smoke alarm or a heat alarm is installed in garages where an EV is regularly parked or charged. We are reminded of the volatility of Lithium Ion batteries and the consequences of charging them overnight. Whilst most are stable and safe guarded all it requires is a rouge to fail, resulting in a toxic and dangerous fire. View this Video for an insight: https://youtu.be/qwxZu3nVOZ0 Fire and Rescue NSW advise “Make sure that your EV is identifiable by emergency services. There should be a blue “EV” sticker/badge on the number plate to indicate that it is an electric or hybrid vehicle. These stickers are there specifically to warn emergency responders of the presence of a high voltage battery. Another consideration that is rarely mentioned is around EVs and crash-related incidents. High-impact collisions or severe accidents involving EVs can damage the battery pack, causing internal short circuits and potential thermal runaway. Firefighting efforts can be challenging due to the need for specialized extinguishing methods and the risk of reignition.
Efforts are being made to address these concerns. For battery recycling, research and investments are focused on developing more efficient and scalable recycling technologies, improving infrastructure, and establishing regulatory frameworks. Additionally, safety standards for battery design, manufacturing, and handling are continuously evolving to mitigate the risk of fires and improve emergency response procedures.
It's worth noting that the downsides mentioned here are not insurmountable challenges, and the industry is actively working to address them. As technology advances and further research is conducted, these issues are likely to be minimized, leading to more sustainable and safer electric vehicles. Next step would be to have a VERY close look at our tyre waste and the mind blowing nano-particle pollution it causes.
The above is not to say that EVs are most definitely the way forward. But have we got it right yet? On the surface it all looks terrific but if you scrape away at the surface there is still a long way to go.
From the base level of identifying that apartment buildings do not have the capacity to deliver overnight charging to each and all of their owners at the same time to the need for building owners to consider if providing charging for staff and visitors is a viable cost burden. The bottom line is that there is very little mention of the above concerns in the media as we collectively accelerate on a path that is taking us to a host of knowns and more unknowns that we are certainly not prepared for. I often reflect back on the turning point we made when we decided that water and soft drinks should be sold in plastic bottles instead of glass. “It will be cheaper to manufacture” they said. “It will be lighter and less costs on transport, plus they are more robust for handling”. Best of all “Think of the energy savings, so much better for the planet”. And we ran headlong into one of the biggest environmental catastrophe this planet has ever witnessed , and continues to feed on a daily basis. But no-one mentioned that in the marketing either. Until next—lei
Editor's Note: It appears that I am not alone in my concerns: This piece by Rowan Atkinson was published in The Guardian. - June 3rd 2023 "I love electric vehicles – and was an early adopter. But increasingly I feel duped - Rowan Atkinson. Sat 3 Jun 2023 17.00 AEST Sadly, keeping your old petrol car may be better than buying an EV. There are sound environmental reasons not to jump just yet. Electric motoring is, in theory, a subject about which I should know something. My first university degree was in electrical and electronic engineering, with a subsequent master’s in control systems. Combine this, perhaps surprising, academic pathway with a lifelong passion for the motorcar, and you can see why I was drawn into an early adoption of electric vehicles. I bought my first electric hybrid 18 years ago and my first pure electric car nine years ago and (notwithstanding our poor electric charging infrastructure) have enjoyed my time with both very much. Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they’re wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run. But increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn’t seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be. read on ... HERE (Free to read)