Electric Vehicles 'Laughable' Proposition for at Least a Decade: Expert

Electric Vehicles 'Laughable' Proposition for at Least a Decade: Expert
Employees work on assembly line during a construction completion event of SAIC Volkswagen MEB electric vehicle plant in Shanghai, China, on Nov. 8, 2019. (Aly Song/Reuters)
Naveen Athrappully

Geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan has dismissed the possibility of electric vehicles (EVs) going mainstream in the next 10 years owing to limitations on materials and unresolved supply chain issues.

“The lithium comes from one place, and it’s all processed in China. So, just building the alternate processing infrastructure … and by the way, we have to invade Russia too … just to get the materials to do EVs at scale is just laughable for the next decade. We need a new technological series of breakthroughs in material sciences before that is possible,” Zeihan said on Sept. 8 at the 54th Annual ECC PerspECCtive Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
In a post on his personal website, Zeihan points out that electrifying “everything” will require more copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, zinc, chromium, graphite, silicon, rare earths, and other materials. A single electric car needs 200 kilograms (441 pounds) of such materials, whereas a conventional car only demands less than 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

Moving away from oil involves walking away from complex, often violent, and always critical supply and transport systems, “only to replace it with at least 10 more,” he said.

The United States will not just have to deal with Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, but also with countries like Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, Peru, Mexico, Germany, Indonesia, and China, where such materials needed for electric vehicles are concentrated.

In May, Carlos Tavares, CEO of automotive manufacturing company Stellantis, warned that the world could experience a shortage of EV batteries by 2024–25, and then a shortage of materials for producing the EVs. This will slow down the adoption of electric vehicles by 2027–28, he stated, according to CNBC.

US Adoption

Zeihan’s observations about EVs come as some U.S. states are aggressively pushing forward the adoption of electric vehicles despite lacking the infrastructure to support them.

California is trying to ban the sale of diesel commercial trucks by 2040 and gas-powered cars by 2035. However, the state advised electric car owners not to charge vehicles in early September owing to a shortage of electricity.

The shift to renewable energy sources does not come cheap. The United States will have to spend trillions of dollars to upgrade power grids to accommodate renewable energy demands, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.

“We estimate the cost of full decarbonization of the US power grid at US$4.5 trillion, given the current state of technology … From a budgetary perspective, the cost is staggering at US$35,000 per household—nearly US$2,000 per year if assuming a 20-year plan,” Wood Mackenzie said in a post.
Globally, the International Energy Agency has set a target of 47 million EV sales by 2030. Speaking to the Financial Times, Daniel Morgan, a mining analyst at investment bank Barrenjoey, cited 28 million as a realistic target. But even this would require lithium production to rise by six times by 2030.

EV production targets being made by governments or carmakers are impossible to meet, Morgan said. “There’s a great love of throwing out lofty targets, but where the rubber hits the road it’s not going to happen.”