To Meet EV Demand, Industry Turns to Technology Long Deemed Hazardous (Japan News/Washington Post – May 12, 2023)

OBIRA ISLAND, Indonesia – On a remote island close to where the Pacific meets the Indian Ocean sits one of the first refineries built specifically to support the world’s transition away from fossil fuels. Rocks unearthed here contain traces of nickel, a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries. Extracting it, refining it and readying it for export is a gargantuan task.

More than $1 billion has been sunk into the processing facility, the first in Indonesia to use an acid-leaching technology to convert low-grade laterite nickel ore – which the country has in abundance – into a higher-grade material suitable for batteries. Foreign investors and lenders cite the project as evidence of their commitment to fighting climate change.

But the sprawling facility, bordered on one side by forest and on the other by blue seas, faces a major challenge: what to do with the roughly 4 million metric tons of toxic waste produced every year – enough, approximately, to fill 1,667 Olympic-size swimming pools.

In 2020, the companies behind the project told the government they had a solution: They would pump the waste into the ocean. They ultimately backtracked in the face of public pressure. But it’s not clear that the on-land storage alternative they’ve offered instead is significantly safer.

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