10 Tonnes of Mining Needed for One Electric Car: CEO Reveals True Cost of Net Zero

10 Tonnes of Mining Needed for One Electric Car: CEO Reveals True Cost of Net Zero
An employee works on the production line of electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturer Octillion in Hefei, Anhui province, China, on March 30, 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters)
Daniel Y. Teng
Updated:

BRISBANE—Business leaders at the World Mining Congress have revealed the sheer scale (and urgency) of new mining activity needed to make net zero societies feasible.

The climate change movement—supposed to be about protecting the environment—will, in fact, spur mining companies to go “deeper, bigger, and faster” to meet the demand for critical minerals like lithium and copper, which are needed for batteries and solar panels.

“A footprint of five percent [grade] copper, which is really the average grade that can be developed, would [cover] 31 square kilometres, which is 12 times the size of the CBD that we’re sitting in today,” said Sherry Duhe, interim CEO of Newcrest Mining.

“So imagine that’s one mine, and we need many, many, 10s or dozens of those mines to be able to meet the copper demand that’s out there,” she said. “That means we have to go deeper, we have to build bigger mines, and we have to go much, much faster than we have ever gone before.”

Duhe also revealed internal Newcrest modelling showed the average electric car needed far more mining to support it compared to conventional vehicles.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV is pictured at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
The Chevrolet Bolt EV is pictured at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

“When you look at the amount of earth we have to move to produce one [EV] car, it’s ten tonnes,” she said, saying it was “six times the total material” needed for regular cars.

“It just shows you the enormity of the problem and the challenge that we’re facing. And that’s just to electrify vehicles; that’s just one element of the electrical system.”

EVs and solar panels require a range of critical minerals, including lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, and graphite. The challenge with mining these minerals is not only the extraction process from the soil but also the processing supply chain, which is largely controlled by China.

Newcrest is currently the fifth largest copper miner in the world and manages to extract that volume from just four mines.

“And yet we need 250 Cadias to be built in the next 27 years,” she said, in reference to the Cadia gold and copper mine. “If the biggest companies in the world have a handful of projects, think about how much work, and therefore, the opportunity there is for development.”

Workers drain away polluted water near the Zijin copper mine in Shanghang on July 13, 2010, after pollution from the mine contaminated the Ting River, a major waterway in southeast China’s Fujian Province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers drain away polluted water near the Zijin copper mine in Shanghang on July 13, 2010, after pollution from the mine contaminated the Ting River, a major waterway in southeast China’s Fujian Province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Her comments were followed by those of Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who told attendees the world must increase mining production by 450 percent.

“We can’t generate renewable energy or get to net zero without the copper and cobalt that go in solar panels and wind turbines,” he said. “And we can’t store it without the lithium, nickel, and graphite needed for batteries.

“That’s why, on some estimates, meeting the world’s climate goals by 2050 will require a 450 percent increase in the production of these minerals.”

Is Everyone Really On Board?

While there was a broad consensus around the urgency for net zero, there were some who had a different perspective.

“For the people on the street in South America, they know nothing about net zero targets; they don’t even care,” said Jose Marun, a mining consultant from Argentina, in an interview with The Epoch Times.

The former mining director said there was a “disconnect” between developed and developing countries, and in Argentina, there was little discussion at the political levels.

“Undeveloped countries have more urgent issues than this, for instance, job creation. Poverty is huge. If you talk to people on the street, they tell you, ‘That is not my problem; my problem is I don’t have a job.’”

While the CEO of Thiess, one of the world’s largest mining services companies, revealed its push was largely driven by pressure from a range of stakeholders.

“Our clients are facing significant imposts around the future [government-mandated] price of carbon,” Michael Wright told attendees.

“Solutions are being demanded by our people, by our regulators, by the communities in which we operate, and significantly by financial people and insurers moving forward.”

Global financial bodies have teamed up to impose conditions on insurance and loans to fossil fuel projects, making it almost unviable for mining-related companies to continue operating.

Eco-modernist Michael Shellenberger has said the worldwide climate change push—despite its difficulties and tremendous costs—has taken on almost quasi-religious qualities.

“There’s financial motivation by people that want to sell renewables, particularly solar panels made in China. There’s the desire for kind of political power, cultural power, social power,” he previously told The Epoch Times.

“And then there’s sort of the ways in which climate change has become a religion, and it’s provided people with a kind of purpose in life.”

“I think that when people stopped believing in traditional religions, they need to fill that gap with some other religion, and so they’ve made climate change into a kind of apocalyptic religion as a replacement for Judeo Christianity,” he said of the West.

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
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