McClaughry: EVs and child labor

By John McClaughry

A few weeks ago I devoted three WDEV radio scripts to the pros and cons of switching to an electric vehicle. This is a large topic to deal with in five minutes of air time, so I want to add two thoughts now.

After citing some advantages, I said “Their vulnerable point is the thousand-pound battery. Repeated discharging and recharging cycles degrade it, and operation in cold climates diminishes performance and battery life, reasonably estimated to be fifteen years.”

One of the EV experts I learn from emailed to tell me that my 15 year estimate for lifetime  of a thousand pound EV battery was far too high in actual operation. He said eight years was a far better practical estimate. I was far too generous with the fifteen years.

Another input was more interesting. It featured an article on this point by an old friend of mine, Amory Lovins, one of the really inventive minds of our time, who Sen. Shumlin brought in to address the legislature here in 2007.

To my charge that cobalt, mined by children in Africa under appalling conditions,  is essential to battery composition, Amory writes that that is true now for one class of car-battery chemistries, but others use little cobalt or none at all. Standard-range Tesla cars’ batteries use no cobalt.

What I said was true at this moment, but Amory believes that new technologies like iron-nitride and control software and power electronics made of silicon may soon conquer the cobalt problem.

The author, a Kirby resident, is founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute. To read all EAI news and commentary, go to

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3 replies »

  1. What about the lithium and child labor?
    And all the other issues with mining lithium?

    Child labor:

    But in Vermont, kids are experimented on with bioweapons, hormone blockers, and oxygen deprivation, and social isolation. Comme ce, comme ca.

    Or keeping up with demand?

    Supply crunch for EV’s with lithium batteries:

    And… how about mud season, or that thing called winter?
    How many outside interests are paying for this boondoggle to be deployed onto Vermonters, and make us pay for the privilege of stupidity?

  2. I am no moonbat and am an old motorhead and will miss the vroom of a piston engine and coupling it to the road with a manual transmission. However, the same warnings about toxics and third-world externalities were the case when the horseless carriage first made it’s appearance. We still use lead-acid batteries to start them and those wear out over time and are effectively and safely recycled. Petrol fuel causes all kinds of environmental issues in it’s extraction, processing and combustion so not much will improve there, except for the vehicle’s direct carbon emissions. After 150 years of using petrol for lighting and motor fuel, maybe it is time to move on. We can do it right from a human rights standpoint this time and assure that those under-developed countries with the battery raw material resources will cash in and benefit their own people. If they continue to operate as kleptocracies, that will be unfortunate.
    The real problem is that we have not really established an electric-drive vehicle standard yet. Before we set up a whole new standard for personal transportation and how we fuel it, I dont know that we have thoroughly investigated the 2 main options. Electric drive is a no-brainer, as it has been with diesel-electric locomotives since the end of the steam age. The question is: how do we store that energy on board the vehicle? The options are battery vs hydrogen fuel cell. NASA figured out back in the 1960s Gemini program that batteries were just not going to cut it for multiday missions and every spacecraft since then has carried hydrogen to “burn” in fuel cells to produce electricity. The advantage on Earth is that fueling with liquid hydrogen is as fast as our current liquid petrol fillup and the oxygen to complete the fuel-cell reaction is available from the air. Before we jump whole-hog into battery storage electric vehicles which require time and driving strategy to charge up, we had better answer this question. We have been spoiled for 100+ years with personal vehicles which take 5 minutes to fuel to take us 200-400 miles and going back to a battery system which takes extended time to charge/fuel will not be a good marketing feature, and not be much of a strategic improvement over hay-fueled horses.
    We know that Henry Ford assured himself that there was an adequate infrastructure set up to fuel his vehicles BEFORE he set about building and marketing them. The battery car charging infrastructure is currently primitive at best and will not provide for mass appeal. There are widespread reports of difficulties finding charging stations. Too bad we can’t look to real leadership from our Federal Govt.

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