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Electric Cars.... Savior or destroyer of the environment?

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Could digging up the ocean floor help save the planet?

‎Today, ‎November ‎13, ‎2019, ‏‎4 hours ago
The seabed is rich in metals, but what damage could mining it cause

Electric car future may depend on deep sea mining

By David Shukman Science editor, Malaga, Spain
Apollo Image caption Apollo II is a prototype deep sea mining machine being tested off the coast of Malaga

The future of electric cars may depend on mining critically important metals on the ocean floor.

That's the view of the engineer leading a major European investigation into new sources of key elements.

Demand is soaring for the metal cobalt - an essential ingredient in batteries and abundant in rocks on the seabed.

Laurens de Jonge, who's running the EU project, says the transition to electric cars means "we need those resources".

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The BBC's David Shukman explains how deep sea mining works

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Media captionThe BBC's David Shukman explains how deep sea mining works

He was speaking during a unique set of underwater experiments designed to assess the impact of extracting rocks from the ocean floor.

In calm waters 15km off the coast of Malaga in southern Spain, a prototype mining machine was lowered to the seabed and 'driven' by remote control.

Cameras attached to the Apollo II machine recorded its progress and, crucially, monitored how the aluminium tracks stirred up clouds of sand and silt as they advanced.

Did deep sea mining start with CIA plot?


An array of instruments was positioned nearby to measure how far these clouds were carried on the currents - the risk of seabed mining smothering marine life over a wide area is one of the biggest concerns.

What is 'deep sea mining'?

It's hard to visualise, but imagine opencast mining taking place at the bottom of the ocean, where huge remote-controlled machines would excavate rocks from the seabed and pump them up to the surface.


The concept has been talked about for decades, but until now it's been thought too difficult to operate in the high-pressure, pitch-black conditions as much as 5km deep.

Now the technology is advancing to the point where dozens of government and private ventures are weighing up the potential for mines on the ocean floor.

Apollo Apollo

Why would anyone bother?

The short answer: demand. The rocks of the seabed are far richer in valuable metals than those on land and there's a growing clamour to get at them.

Billions of potato-sized rocks known as "nodules" litter the abyssal plains of the Pacific and other oceans and many are brimming with cobalt, suddenly highly sought after as the boom in the production of batteries gathers pace.

At the moment, most of the world's cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo where for years there've been allegations of child labour, environmental damage and widespread corruption.

Electric carImage copyright Getty Images Image caption Current technology for electric car batteries require cobalt, thought to be abundant on the sea floor

Expanding production there is not straightforward which is leading mining companies to weigh the potential advantages of cobalt on the seabed.

Laurens de Jonge, who's in charge of the EU project, known as Blue Nodules, said: "It's not difficult to access - you don't have to go deep into tropical forests or deep into mines.

"It's readily available on the seafloor, it's almost like potato harvesting only 5km deep in the ocean."

And he says society faces a choice: there may be in future be alternative ways of making batteries for electric cars - and some manufacturer are exploring them - but current technology requires cobalt.

RocksImage copyright Geomar Image caption Laurens de Jonge likens the process to "potato harvesting" 5km down in the ocean

"If you want to make a fast change, you need cobalt quick and you need a lot of it - if you want to make a lot of batteries you need the resources to do that."

His view is backed by a group of leading scientists at London's Natural History Museum and other institutions.

They recently calculated that meeting the UK's targets for electric cars by 2050 would require nearly twice the world's current output of cobalt.

So what are the risks?

No one can be entirely sure, which makes the research off Spain highly relevant.

It's widely accepted that whatever is in the path of the mining machines will be destroyed - there's no argument about that.

But what's uncertain is how far the damage will reach, in particular the size of the plumes of silt and sand churned up and the distance they will travel, potentially endangering marine life far beyond the mining site.

The chief scientist on board, Henko de Stigter of the Dutch marine research institute NIOZ, points out that life in the deep Pacific - where mining is likely to start first - has adapted to the usually "crystal clear conditions".

Apollo at dawn

So for any organisms feeding by filter, waters that are suddenly filled with stirred-up sediment would be threatening.

"Many species are unknown or not described, and let alone do we know how they will respond to this activity - we can only estimate."

And Dr de Stigter warned of the danger of doing to the ocans what humanity has done to the land.

"With every new human activity it's often difficult to foresee all the consequences of that in the long term.

"What is new here is that we are entering an environment that is almost completely untouched."

Could deep sea mining be made less damaging?

Ralf Langeler thinks so. He's the engineer in charge of the Apollo II mining machine and he believes the design will minimise any impacts.

Like Laurens de Jonge, he works for the Dutch marine engineering giant Royal IHC and he says his technology can help reduce the environmental effects.

The machine is meant to cut a very shallow slice into the top 6-10cm of the seabed, lifting the nodules. Its tracks are made with lightweight aluminium to avoid sinking too far into the surface.

David and Ralph Image caption David Shukman (R) talks to Ralf Langeler, the engineer in charge of the Apollo II mining machine

Silt and sand stirred up by the extraction process should then be channelled into special vents at the rear of the machine and released in a narrow stream, to try to avoid the plume spreading too far.

"We'll always change the environment, that's for sure," Ralf says, "but that's the same with onshore mining and our purpose is to minimise the impact."

I ask him if deep sea mining is now a realistic prospect.

"One day it's going to happen, especially with the rising demand for spwcial metals - and they're there on the sea floor."

Who decides if it goes ahead?

Mining in territorial waters can be approved by an individual government.

That happened a decade ago when Papua New Guinea gave the go-ahead to a Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, to mine gold and copper from hydrothermal vents in the Bismarck Sea.

Since then the project has been repeatedly delayed as the company ran short of funds and the prime minister of PNG called for a ten-year moratorium on deep sea mining.

A Nautilus Minerals representative has told me that the company is being restructured and that they remain hopeful of starting to mine.

Meanwhile, nearly 30 other ventures are eyeing areas of ocean floor beyond national waters, and these are regulated by a UN body, the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

It has issued licences for exploration and is due next year to publish the rules that would govern future mining.

The EU's Blue Nodules project involves a host of different institutions and countries.

The vessel used for the underwater research off Spain, the Sarmiento de Gamboa, is operated by CSIC, the Spanish National Research Council.

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And then there’s also a world wide shortage of nickel

“ When most people think about the composition of batteries used in modern electric vehicles such as those produced by Tesla, or the batteries that keep our smartphones powered up, the word Lithium comes to mind. In fact, these batteries are so prevalent in modern life, that the word “lithium-ion” has become a household term. What most do not know, is that lithium-ion batteries are comprised of several metals, or at least the oxides of several metals including cobalt, nickel, and lithium. 



Each of these metals is in fairly short supply across world markets, mainly because they are extremely hard to extract from the earth as the ore from which they originate contains a relatively low amount of the metals thus requiring hundreds of tons of ore be mined to produce a single ton of metal. Once minded from the earth, the procedures involved in the refining processes are not only highly toxic but are quite damaging to the environment. If those two issues did not complicate things enough, the ore deposits are often found in countries that are wrought with conflict, corruption, and humanitarian issues. 


“Sarah Maryssael, Tesla’s global supply manager for battery metals, told a closed-door Washington conference of miners, regulators, and lawmakers that the automaker sees a shortage of key EV minerals coming in the near future, according to the sources.”


For years now shortages in the lithium supply have caused massive price fluctuations causing consumers to be wary of electric vehicles because they feared a batter replacement might cost them more than their vehicle did originally. Fortunately, that market seems to have stabilized greatly since companies like Tesla and Samsung have increased market demand. At the moment, there seems to be a small surplus of Lithium, causing the market to level out as a result. If producers continue to maintain this surplus is another question altogether. That brings us to the other two metals, nickel, and cobalt. 



Cobalt is mainly mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a region of significant political instability, but for the most part, the production seems to be steady, with the materials fairly high price remaining mostly stable. Nickel, however, is the secret no one wants to talk about. Despite it being a fairly common, widely used metal, its worldwide production is had been relatively flat for the past several years despite a steady increase in demand. Just in the first half of 2019 alone, nickel prices rose by more than a third, with prices expected to increase even more. 


Maryssael added, “According to the sources, that Tesla will continue to focus more on nickel, part of a plan by Chief Executive Elon Musk to use less cobalt in battery cathodes. Cobalt is primarily mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and some extraction techniques – especially those using child labor – have made its use deeply unpopular across the battery industry, especially with Musk.”


One of the causes for this has been a lack of mine expansion due to environmental concerns, among other political issues. The Sumitomo Metal Mining Company of Japan recently told journalists that they are facing a deficit in production of almost 51,000 tons for the 2019 calendar year. That’s really bad news, as industry analyst expects the worldwide demand for “class-one nickel”, the highest purity grade, to increase by a factor of almost 16-times the demand we are seeing today in 2019. By 2030 industries across the world will consume more than 1.8-million tons, of class-one nickel. This is a much bigger issue than just a lack of batteries for electric vehicles. Nickel is used in a lot of different manufacturing processes. Stainless steel production uses a lot of the available nickel that is produced. Nickel is used as a bonding agent in chrome-plated metals, and it's used heavily in the aerospace industry for exotic metal alloy production. 


This has led companies like the First Quantum Minerals Ltd in Australia to make plans to reopen mines that have been closed for years. Other mineral companies around the world are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in exploration looking for new deposits that are mineable, a task which is not as easy as it once was due to new environmental restrictions worldwide. Some analyst are predicting that unless nickel production increases significantly within the next 10-years, demand will greatly outpace production sometime by 2035. If that wasn’t enough Cobalt production could be outpaced by 2030 if a political conflict does not cause production to halt.  




Edited by Jaydee

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Re Nickel, that is good news for Canadian Mines , perhaps time to buy some stock.

Nickel and its compounds are essential for the manufacture of countless products that we rely on daily. Reflecting this vast use, Canada's nickel and nickel-related products are exported to more than 100 countries.

 Key facts

  • Canada's exports of nickel and nickel-based products in 2017 were valued at $3.8 billion
  • In 2017, Canada ranked fifth in the world for mine production of nickel and fourth for production of refined nickel

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1 hour ago, Marshall said:

Re Nickel, that is good news for Canadian Mines , perhaps time to buy some stock.

If you are looking for an investment that MIGHT pay off in 5 years or so....(not an investment recommendation by any stretch of the imagination)


“ The Dumont Nickel-Cobalt Project is one of the world’s largest undeveloped, permitted and shovel ready nickel sulphide deposits.

Dumont is a large deposit located near the town of Amos, in the municipalities of Launay and Trécesson, in the established Abitibi mining camp in the mining-friendly Canadian province of Québec. When in production, it is expected to rank among the top-five largest nickel sulphide operations in the world by annual production – only the mining operations at Norilsk (Russia), Jinchuan (China) and Sudbury (Ontario, Canada), will be larger.”

Edited by Jaydee

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The German car industry’s costly bet on electric cars could backfire as cities fight cars of any description

Fri Dec 6, 2019 - The Globe and Mail
Eric Reguly - European bureau chief

Germany’s automakers are spending hundreds of billions of euros for the transition to electric propulsion. It is the country’s biggest industrial gamble since the Second World War – and it may not work.

The auto industry is going against the wishes of consumers, who do not want electric cars, according to polls, and cannot afford them. It’s fighting unions, who suspect the phase-out of regular cars is a ruse to fire them or pay them less. And it will soon be at odds with cities, which of course prefer electric cars to emission-spewing ones but would rather have no cars at all, because their streets are clogged to the point of paralysis.

Volkswagen alone expects to spend €60-billion ($88-billion) on electric, hybrid and digital technology in the next five years, the equivalent of almost 70 per cent of its stock-market value. The company intends to have eight MEB – modular electric drive – plants humming away on three continents by 2022. It calls its strategy an “electric offensive,” as if it’s going to war against its own fleet of traditional cars.

Good luck, Volkswagen, Daimler (owner of Mercedes-Benz) and BMW. The electric bet is a lot riskier than it appears.

Let’s start with demand. In Germany, Europe’s top car market, a mere 16 per cent of drivers are thinking about buying an electric car, according to a September poll commissioned by electric utility E.ON. But even in the countries that most like the idea – Italy and Romania – only a bit more than a third of drivers would consider going electric.

No wonder so few electric cars are rolling out of showrooms. In Germany, just 420,000 of the country’s private fleet of 47 million cars were electric or hybrids at the end of 2018, according to Bloomberg. Their market-penetration rate is similar elsewhere. Ontario has about 12 million vehicles, but only 41,000 of them are electric. The provincial government’s environment plan assumes that number will rise to 1.3 million by 2030 – a fantasy figure, all the more so since Premier Doug Ford ended the hefty purchase incentives for zero-emission cars last year.

Range anxiety has a lot to do with buyers’ hesitation, as do the lengthy recharging times and the dearth of charging points on highways and in cities. While the range of some electric models is now competitive with that of gas- or diesel-powered cars, their prices are still outrageous. An electric Volkswagen Golf starts at €32,900 in Italy (where I live), before government incentives; the entry-level Golf with a gas engine costs €22,250. To be sure, the price of electric cars will come down, broadening their appeal somewhat, even if regular cars will always be cheaper.

Here’s the problem – and it’s a biggie: Electric cars make the most sense in cities, not in rural areas, because their regenerative braking systems make their urban ranges better than their highway ranges. But cities everywhere are trying to repel cars, not attract them.

Today, about 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, the proportion will rise to two-thirds, the United Nations says. Since most of these cities, from London to Beijing, suffer from terrible air pollution, it’s in their best interests to develop environmentally clean transportation. But that does not necessarily mean opening the city gates to electric or autonomous cars, which will be mostly electric.

There’s no room for more cars of any description. To ban or restrict diesel cars, which some cities are doing, makes sense for air quality, but it makes no sense if they’re simply replaced by electric cars that keep traffic at a standstill.

The point is that electric cars have the pollution advantage in precisely the areas – cities – where there should be no cars at all. If the sales projections of German automakers assume saturation market share for electric cars among urban buyers over the next decades, they may be horribly wrong. Cities will buy electric and hybrid buses and electric trams. The biggest municipalities will expand their subway systems. If cities want to be livable, there is no alternative.

In 2020, Luxembourg will become the first country to make all public transportation – trains, trams and buses – free. The country has the most cars per capita in the European Union, and its traffic congestion is horrendous. It doesn’t want commuters to use any cars, even electric ones. Some of the big cities in Europe are bound to follow its example.

Have the German car companies overestimated the potential popularity of electric cars? The tiny market share of such vehicles suggests they have, and the inevitable launch of anti-car campaigns could keep their sales from soaring. Still, they plan to spend fortunes developing zero-emission cars. Here’s a guess: The German government, which already hands out lavish purchase incentives for electric cars, will have to come to their rescue in a few years as these products sit in showrooms.



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