Part 2: The Fragile Electric Grid

Supply Chains

Bryce also looks at the enormous requirement for copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earths that electric cars and power generation demand.  He notes that there is a security challenge in that much of the required minerals are primarily mined in China.

Bryce cites a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that estimates the critical minerals that EVs require are roughly 6 times that of conventional vehicles:

“In particular, the report says that every EV needs about 55 kilograms of copper, 10 kilograms of lithium, nearly 40 kilograms of nickel, 25 kilograms of manganese, and about 70 kilograms of graphite. In a summary, the agency explained that the rapid deployment of EVs “implies a significant increase in demand for minerals.”

The following IEA chart from their posting shows the kg of minerals required by an EV and by conventional vehicles.  It also addresses the power generation mineral needs comparing wind, solar, nuclear, coal and natural gas on a kg/MW basis.

Bryce cites a study done by Professor Richard Herrington of the Natural History Museum of London, where he and his colleagues studied the mineral requirements to convert all the UKs 31 million motor vehicles to EVs. Bryce says: 

“They found that doing so would require “two times the annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of Neodymium  (a rare earth), three quarters of the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production. 

The U.S. has about 276 million registered motor vehicles or roughly nine times as many vehicles as the U.K. If Herrington’s numbers are right, electrifying just half of the U.S. vehicle fleet (roughly 140 million vehicles) would require about nine times the world’s current cobalt production, about four times global neodymium output, about three times the global lithium production and about two times world copper production.”

Look at the chart by IEA for the processing volume for selected minerals, 2019.  The red bar is China’s processing volume of these essential minerals. Neodymium is an essential for electric motors   It is one of the 17 elements group that are called rare earths.   One can imagine that China could put a choke hold on the New Green Deal by elevating the price of minerals or limiting production of the many minerals they are the leading providers.

Bryce summarizes his beliefs as follows:

“…………efforts to decarbonize transportation are laudable. But as author Vaclav Smil has rightly pointed out, energy transitions “are protracted affairs” that occur over decades, not years. Before allocating billions of dollars on infrastructure and more subsidies for EVs, policymakers must have frank and transparent discussions about how efforts to decarbonize transportation will impact low and middle-income Americans, many of whom are already struggling to pay their energy bills. Higher energy costs are a form of regressive taxation. At a time when policymakers are grappling with inequality and social justice issues, they must be careful not to impose regressive policies that will exacerbate inequality. Over the past century, the American transportation network has flourished because market forces were allowed to provide the best solutions. Congress should not be picking winners in the transportation market. If EVs are, in fact, better than conventional vehicles, then policymakers should let consumers drive their adoption.”


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