PhD student unpacks common misconception about electric vehicles: ‘You’ve been [misled]’


A Ph.D. student took to TikTok recently to debunk a climate myth that electric vehicles are actually worse for the environment and climate than internal combustion engine cars.

The common claim cites the impact of metals mined for the construction of EVs and their batteries. TikToker Rosh (@all_about_climate), a doctoral student with degrees in earth and climate science, put the disinformation to bed, though it’s sure to crop up again.

Rosh started by showing a clip from another TikTok that argues for the continued use of dirty energy sources over clean energy sources to power vehicles.

“The amount of money and the amount of energy being used to make a lithium battery, it’s more dangerous for the environment than a fuel, internal combustion engine,” someone said.

The video creator said: “OK. So, this is unfortunately a really prevalent, common, and completely untrue claim about lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles more generally.

“So, first of all, it is true that electric vehicles alone won’t solve climate change. And it’s true there is some environmental impact from a green transition. No one denies this. But the idea that it’s worse or even comparable to what we are currently doing to maintain the fossil fuel status quo is completely wrong.”

Rosh included a chart from Generation Investment Management of metals mined in 2022. Iron was the top dog (1,300,000 kilotonnes), while aluminum (69,000) and copper (26,000) outpaced lithium (130) by 530 and 200 times. (Each kilotonne is about 2.2 million pounds.)

When using the International Energy Agency’s projection for demand in 2050, the weight of lithium needed — 1,313 kilotonnes — still didn’t touch any of the other metals.

“So, yes, we do need to mine lithium,” the creator said, “but the scale of it is nothing compared to what we are already doing to maintain the fossil fuel status quo.”

Commenters pointed out that many who take the incredible stance from the start of the video benefit from the fossil fuel industry or are Big Oil stans.

“Apple vendor speaks on the horrors of pear cider,” one user joked.

Illustrating the point, another TikToker asked: “How does the lithium battery get recycled, I have heard [it’s] pretty difficult and in some cases [it’s] not possible. And [it’s] just left there to be nothing.”

The responses included: “You’ve been [misled]. Lithium batteries are over 95% recyclable.”

And: “[You] hear that all the time and it is 100% wrong. Basically propaganda from the oil industry. Lithium batteries can be fully recycled.”

According to J.D. Power, the lithium-ion batteries used in most EVs are up to 90% recyclable, and “recycling companies claim that the recovery rate is 95% to 98%” using certain recycling processes for recovering critical materials from the batteries.

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