Switching To Electric Cars Could Mean Trading One Kind Of Dependence For Another

The batteries that power electric vehicles are made with lithium and cobalt, neither of which are plentiful in the U.S.

By Alexandra HartJanuary 31, 2019 6:56 am,

Use of electric vehicles is growing in the U.S. – whether fueled by a desire to end dependence on gasoline, to take advantage tax credits or for more altruistic motives. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are more than 1,100 electric car charging stations in Texas. But becoming less dependent on oil could result in a new kind of foreign resource dependence.

James Osborne, Washington energy correspondent for the Houston Chronicle  says the batteries that power electric cars, as well as cell phones, contain lithium and cobalt, two substances that could one day become scarce. That could be a major problem if electric vehicle sales increase by 15-fold in the next few years, as is predicted.

And cobalt and lithium, especially cobalt, are not abundant in the U.S., as fossil fuels have been.

“Two-thirds of the world’s cobalt supply, more or less, comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Osborne says. “…It has a long history of war and corruption.”

Osborne says battery makers are looking to other countries, including Canada, for more reserves of the metals needed to make batteries.

“Production’s going to have to increase,” he says. “We’re going to have to have more mines outside the Congo.”

Energy secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports lithium recycling.

“They want to take these batteries, and break them down and take out the lithium and cobalt and probably some other ingredients as well, and just take them and make new batteries with them,” Osborne says.

The problem for now is how to recycle these materials economically.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.