Large amounts of the mineral are needed for electric car batteries, but getting it out of the ground and refining it often requires clearing rainforests and generating large amounts of carbon
In the electric-vehicle business, the quandary is known as the nickel pickle. To make batteries for EVs, companies need to mine and refine large amounts of nickel. The process of getting the mineral out of the ground and turning it into battery-ready substances, though, is particularly environmentally unfriendly.
Reaching the nickel means cutting down swaths of rainforest. Refining it is a carbon-intensive process that involves extreme heat and high pressure, producing waste slurry that’s hard to dispose of.
The nickel issue reflects a larger contradiction within the EV industry: Though electric vehicles are designed to be less damaging to the environment in the long term than conventional cars, the process of building them carries substantial environmental harm.
The challenge is playing out across Indonesia’s mineral-rich islands, by far the world’s largest source of nickel. These deposits aren’t deep underground but lie close to the surface, under stretches of overlapping forests. Getting to the nickel is easy and inexpensive, but only after the forests are cleared.
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