Travel Reset: ‘We May Not Actually Need All That’ lithium, cobalt, & nickel for EVs – Instead report calls for ‘getting Americans out of cars’ & mandate ‘living in dense, walkable & bikeable areas’ w/ mass transit

By: - Climate DepotFebruary 10, 2023 9:14 AM

We May Not Actually Need All That Lithium

New research shows how simple policies like improving public transit and urban walkability can significantly reduce demand for problematic materials.

Excerpts: Read any article about the clean energy revolution, and chances are you’ll run into some staggering numbers about how demand for lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other minerals and metals is projected to rise over the next few decades.

But the future isn’t set in stone. The U.S. may need up to 90% less of these materials if it simply prioritizes things like public transit, urban walkability, and smaller cars, according to groundbreaking new research from the Climate and Community Project and University of California, Davis.

The International Energy Agency predicts that demand for lithium could rise by as much as 40 times by 2040; the U.S. alone by 2050 could need three times as much lithium as is currently produced on the global market. Transportation and electric vehicle batteries are a huge factor in these staggering numbers.

But there are some big problems with these materials and their production, from environmentally destructive mining practices to child and forced labor in supply chains to geopolitical conflict. A recent analysis found that over half of the world’s supply of these materials is on Indigenous lands, signaling some significant upcoming conflicts with corporations looking to profit from the increased demand.

But most of the forecasts that say we’re going to need huge amounts of materials like lithium are based on a future “that looks like the present except it’s electrified,” said Thea Riofrancos, an associate professor of political science at Providence College and one of the authors of the report. This one-to-one trade of gas vehicles for EVs—a vision that assumes Americans, especially, keep up with their big car obsession—is “easier, it feels more politically feasible, and it’s realistic” to the organizations doing the forecasting.

To do the modeling, Riofrancos and her research partners put together four scenarios for the U.S. to achieve net-zero emissions through 2050: a business-as-usual scenario, where electric vehicles simply replace the current supply of fossil fuel-dependent cars, and increasingly dramatic scenarios in which more people live in dense, walkable and bikeable areas; take improved public transit; and own fewer and smaller cars, while the government also implements aggressive recycling policies for electric car components. They then calculated the amount of lithium and other metals all these scenarios demand.

The results were surprising, even to Riofrancos. Policies that made cities more walkable and public transit better and more accessible could lower lithium demand between 18% and 66%, while simply limiting the size of EV batteries could cut demand by up to 42%. In the best-case scenario, where multiple types of these policies were implemented, demand for lithium in the U.S. could be more than 90% lower than current estimates. …

 “There are political challenges around getting Americans out of cars, but we should agree that the science says that that would help a lot to reduce emissions from transportation,” Riofrancos said.