As electric vehicles take off, we’ll need to recycle their batteries – by Madeleine Stone (National Geographic – May 28, 2021)

Electric car batteries contain critical minerals like cobalt and lithium. We’ll need to recycle them unless we want to keep mining the earth for new ones.

When Ford unveiled the F-150 Lightning last week — an all-electric version of the best- selling vehicle in the United States—it was a big moment in the short history of electric cars. The 530-horsepower, 6,500-pound truck’s sticker price of just under $40,000 ($32,474 with a federal tax credit) drew comparisons to Ford’s Model T, the vehicle credited with making cars accessible to the middle class.

In the first 48 hours after the battery-powered behemoth debuted, Ford received close to 45,000 pre-orders for it, equivalent to nearly 20 percent of all EVs registered in the U.S. last year.

The F-150 Lightning, along with the hundreds of other EV models top automakers are rolling out in the next few years, signals that the EV revolution is finally going mainstream. But as this industry, which is key to combating climate change, matures, a new challenge is emerging: how to acquire all of the minerals needed to make EV batteries.

The lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper inside those batteries were all, at one point, mined from the earth. Today, much of that mining is concentrated in places like Russia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, places where environmental oversight is often poor, labor standards often lax, and the mining industry has a history of fueling conflicts with local communities.

With the number of EVs on the roads expected to rise from 10 million in 2020 to upwards of 145 million by 2030, demand for battery minerals is poised to surge. Some industry watchdogs warn that the clean transit boom could fuel a dirty mining boom.

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