EVs Need Fossil Fuels

Autosphere » Dealerships » EVs Need Fossil Fuels
Peter-James Gregory is an entrepreneur, car guy and retired tire industry professional with a history of driving growth and creating value in the tire and automotive sectors. You can reach him at: [email protected]. Photo Peter-James Gregory

Mining, smelting and refining are essential for these so-called “green” vehicles. 

Shocked by the title? Yes, the shocking truth is EVs do need fossil fuels and the production of EVs and the batteries to power them is driving demand for fossil fuels. In many cases, this demand is filled by the dirtiest and oldest form of fossil fuel—coal.

Largest nickel reserves

Nickel is a critical mineral for EVs. Indonesia, the world’s largest nickel producer, holds 22% of the worlds nickel reserves and produced 40% of the world’s nickel in 2023.

To capture increased value from its massive nickel reserves, and to increase local employment, in 2020, Indonesia banned the export of raw nickel, forcing producers to refine the ore locally.

Refining ore requires huge amounts of energy. As Indonesia has huge coal reserves, it is the cheapest form of energy to fuel the nickel refineries. Indonesia’s drive to gain prosperity from EVs is also driving it to mine and burn more coal. In January 2024, Climate Rights International published a report showing that the captive power plants supplying a single industrial park focused on processing nickel, Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park, will burn more coal than Spain or Brazil use in a year.

China’s role

The Chinese are significant players in the nickel refining segment in Indonesia. They perfected a very cost-effective method of refining Indonesia’s laterite ore into nickel for batteries. This method known as HPAL (High Pressure Acid Leach) is carbon intensive and generates an acidic slurry which must be neutralized and impounded properly. This creates high risks for the environment.

Copper is another critical mineral for EVs. In 2023, some 45% of global refined copper output was generated by refineries in The Peoples Republic of China (China).

China is in the midst of a breakneck expansion of its copper industry that’s reshaping global flows of the essential metal for the world’s much-hyped “green energy transition”. 

Large amounts of energy

Refining copper requires large amounts of energy, and the vast majority of China’s energy supply is generated by burning fossil fuels. Some 55% of China’s energy is generated by coal, with some 26% generated by oil and gas. Only approximately 16% is generated by renewables. China burns more coal every year than the rest of the world combined.

While I have highlighted the large amounts of energy required to refine these two metals critical to the “fantastic clean EV future” being marketed to the public, these are only two of the numerous minerals required to build EVs. All these minerals must be mined, and most of these minerals are mined using the open pit mining method. Search nickel mining images or copper mining images on the Internet and look at the pictures that come up. You will see huge open pit mines that utilize giant machines—bulldozers, excavators, trucks, etc. None of these run on electricity, they all require diesel fuel. Also, open pit mines create large amounts of dust and other pollutants.

Excluding steel and aluminum, an EV uses six times the minerals used in an ICE vehicle. In fact, an EV uses more of one mineral, nickel, than the volume of all minerals used in an ICE vehicle. The same also applies to copper.

As EVs drive a huge demand for these minerals, more open pit mines will be developed and more smelters and refineries will be built, in the most cost-effective locations, far away from Canada. This in turn will drive up the demand for fossil fuels, including coal.

Operational realities dictate that open pit mining will require ICE (mostly diesel fuelled) machines, for the foreseeable future. Also, the massive amounts of energy required for the refining process will continue to be supplied by fossil fuels in key producing countries such as Indonesia and China.

Please remember, there are some ugly facts hiding behind all the slick government marketing and virtue signalling about a wonderful, clean EV world. 


Popular Posts