Electric vehicles promised a future without road pollution. Now environmentalists say they may not be as ‘green’ as we think they are – and must get better. Deep underground, in the hot springs of Cornwall, the hunt is on for “white petrol” – otherwise known as lithium. It is one of the metals that is vital to produce the lithium-ion batteries needed to power electric vehicles. Tin miners recorded its presence there more than 100 years ago. And the reason why geologists are interested in these miners’ accounts is the remarkable renaissance of a technology that was, until recently, one of the great technological what-ifs, like the airship and the steam-powered car. Just 10 years ago it would have seemed inconceivable that Jaguar Land Rover would declare that it would make only electric or hybrid cars from 2020, as it announced last month, o r that the Government would decide to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, as it did in July. There are two essential “ingredients” in the lithium-ion batteries that electric cars (and other products such as mobile phones) currently depend on: lithium and cobalt. And the supply of these key metals is set to challenge the green credentials of the electric car. Manufacturers such as Volkswagen are already scrambling to secure their supply of these key metals for the next 20 years, while producers struggle to increase supply – and in such situations, the environment usually loses. Most of the world’s sup plies of lithium come from the high-altitude lakes and salt flats where Chile, Argentina and Bolivia meet. The fragile environment of the “lithium triangle” is now at risk from the production of lithium, in a global market expected to be worth $75bn (£57bn) by 2025.
The i newspaper 31st Oct 2017 read more »