EV battery industry takes heavy toll on DRC – expert

Vanand Meliksetian, an energy and utilities expert working for global management consulting firm Sia Group, has asked for a re-evaluation of the world’s growing over-reliance on lithium and cobalt in an attempt to fight harmful emissions and create an automobile industry that is supposedly friendlier to the environment.

Writing for a commodities portal, Meliksetian said the market for batteries supporting electric vehicles (EVs) had shown significant growth with predictions for lithium, in particular, by far exceeding demand for other batteries.

According to projections used by Meliksetian, 214 kilotons of lithium was manufactured in 2017, of which 87 kilotons went into batteries, the rest going to other sources.

However, with the EV market taking off in Europe and demand for strong car batteries soaring, lithium deliveries reached 672 kilotons last year, of which 509 kilotons were meant for batteries.

Demand increase, however, has not resulted in parallel price increases, mainly because producers, expecting a supply shortfall, flooded world markets with lithium and cobalt.

In the meantime mining for commodities to manufacture EV batteries is going ahead unchecked, writes Mileksetian.

These mining activities, supposedly aimed at aiding a changing automobile industry that has bought into the greenhouse-gas narrative, “are having a devastating environmental and social impact in some areas where lithium and cobalt can be found”.

He added that most of the world’s cobalt was situated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, because of its “political instability and weak institutions”, illegal mines had been allowed to flourish.

He estimates that about 35 000 children help to extract cobalt and lithium for EV battery manufacturing, mainly done in China and destined for exports across the world.

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