A Rainy Monday 10th November

By Project Dirt | November 10 2008

A Rainy Monday 10th November

Blog Category: General update

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    Electric cars – for better or for worse ?

    It’s crazy if you think about it. To get from A to B in our cars we have to get petrol in the tank. That means searching for oil, drilling for it, extracting it, transporting it, refining it, transporting it again – and eventually dispensing it through a grid of petrol stations. The whole process seems completely bonkers.

    Enter the world of the electric car – simpler, neater. Not so sexy or quick – but practical and green. But is there a hidden “fuel?” A resource we don’t know about? The internal combustion engine (and especially petrol as a fuel) seemed fine back in the 1900s••• look at us now!?

    Lithium. Electric cars need Lithium batteries. Lithium Carbonate to be precise – found in saltwater and rocks. Currently present within laptops, computers and mobiles ••• and being heralded by the likes of GM, Toyota, Merc, BMW etc in their new electric and hybrid models.

    1) The hitch – Mitsubishi estimates “demand for Lithium will outstrip supply in under 10 years unless new sources are found.”

    2) The solution – the “Salar de Uyuni” salt flats in Bolivia (see picture above). The largest salt flats in the world and home to 50% of the world’s Lithium.

    3) The problem – Bolivian president Evo Morales is distinctly unfriendly to foreign investment. There’s also significant resistance from local groups; who see the west as exploiting another poorer country again.

    The real problem is the likely pollution that large scale extraction and use will cause. An estimated 500 kilotonnes will be needed a year by 2012 for the car industry alone. This will need substantial investment and mechanisation on fragile natural reserves such as Salar de Uyuni. Such extraction will be intrusive and destructive. The Lithium plants will produce Sulpher Dioxide. And, disposal of the batteries will also be horrendous.

    So, is the electric option the lesser of two evils? Will electric cars be priced out the market ••• and is this a long term solution?

    Comments welcome •••


    PS – a link through to the bbc website page is here

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