The Mining Merry-go-round and EVs


By Edwina Ross.
To keep pace with galloping technologies, capricious market forces and governments, modern mining requires a great deal of agility and flexibility.

Oil prices began to sky-rocket in 2003 for reasons which included substantial demand from China, unrest in the Middle East and the falling value of the US dollar.

At a similar time governments around the world (with the environment firmly on the agenda), began imposing carbon taxes, or rumbling about doing so.

A perfect storm was brewing, with the gasoline or internal combustion engine - the petrol car – in its path.

There is, however, nothing sluggish about visionaries, carpetbaggers, speculators, investors and entrepreneurs when an opportunity to create, invent and make money presents itself.

Assisted by government subsidies and motivated, in part, by green principles the car engine began attracting a great deal of attention. (The newsletter article posted in May 2016 refers to the Tesla factory and the electric vehicle (EV).

To sustain this revolution, alongside other emerging technologies, a range of so-called life-style metals have become essential. In fact the need for them is driving a fresh mining boom. (And a particularly welcomed one, following a cooling in the traditional resources sector.)

Reuters/David Grey  -  A rare earth mining site

(The techniques presently employed to extract these valuable reserves are dangerous, but that is another story.)

The enormous growth in demand for devices such as smartphones, satellite navigators, computer tablets and storage batteries require, among other minerals, lithium, cobalt, carbon graphite, platinum, nickel and tungsten.

Ironically oil prices have since plummeted, but in terms of investment in alternate car engines, the die is cast. The perception has been promoted and it is now considered fact:  an EV car owner will pay less to run it and it will leave a smaller carbon footprint. (One only need glance at the Tesla Motor’s order book to verify this perception; in April 2016, after they unveiled the Model 3’s design, nearly 400,000 pre-orders were made.)

On top of this, Beijing is pushing for 8% of new cars to be electric by 2018 and by 2020, 12%.

The appeal is clear, apart from water there are no tailpipe emissions from battery-electric vehicles. And with more electricity being sourced from renewable energies – wind and solar – the picture for the environment does appear rosy.

On the other hand, the manufacture of all cars produces global warming emissions, but because of the materials and fabrication of their lithium-ion batteries, the EV has higher manufacturing-related emissions. They also require 4 times more copper than an internal combustion engine, a metal also needed in their charging units.


Despite this, it is projected that over the life of the cars, when compared with the internal combustion engine, the EV will remain ahead, with reduced emissions overall. Gasoline or petrol engines are becoming more efficient too, but they are unlikely to keep pace.

The EV is expected to become increasingly attractive to the discerning car owner, for two main reasons. Firstly, they will continue to undergo manufacturing efficiencies, including the recycling or reuse of lithium batteries. Secondly, electricity will be more aggressively sourced from renewables. And my fervent hope is for a third factor: that the techniques used to mine the commodities needed for these emerging technologies will improve too.

The following sites assisted me in writing this piece – thank you.