Do We Want All Of These Electric Car Mines?

If EVs are supposed to be a social good, how do we deal with them needing mines nobody wants?

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You can say that EVs are a threat to the status quo of gas-powered cars. You can say that they are a continuation of the status quo of car dependency. Either way, nobody really wants to actually dig up the stuff we need to build them. All that and more in The Morning Shift for December 22, 2021.

1st Gear: Here’s Another Fun ‘Wait Do We Actually Want These Lithium Mines’ Article

Every day I feel like there’s a new article about lithium mining coming home. Just the other day, Bloomberg was wringing its hands about protests in Serbia and new presidential opposition to exploitative mining in Chile. We may be seeing more of that in the U.S. soon, as Reuters reports:

The United States has enough reserves of lithium, copper and other metals to build millions of its own electric vehicles (EVs), but rising opposition to new mines may force the country to rely on imports and delay efforts to electrify the nation’s automobiles.

The tension underscores the dilemma facing the United States going into 2022, a year in which U.S. policymakers hope to see groundbreakings on a raft of EV manufacturing facilities from Ford Motor Co(F.N), General Motors Co(GM.N) and others.

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What is that opposition? Reuters explains:

Other proposed mines face opposition from indigenous groups, ranchers or environmentalists, underscoring the broader tension in the United States as resistance to living near a mine clashes with the potential of EVs to mitigate climate change.

In early 2022, federal judges are set to rule in two separate cases as to whether mine approvals granted by former President Donald Trump to Lithium Americas Corp(LAC.TO) and Rio Tinto Plc(RIO.L) should be reversed.

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Reuters also points out that unions are backing mining operations as job creators.

All of this may be something of a false equivalency, or whatever the inverse of that is. Nobody is saying we can’t get lithium or copper out of the ground without completely destroying the environment, it’s just not the cheapest or easiest way.

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2nd Gear: The Feds Are Still Playing Ping-Pong With California’s Emissions Regulations

The current administration is working to reverse work done by the last administration to curb CARB. I’m sure the next administration will work to reverse that.

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In any case, we’re on the good side of the ping pong table at the moment, as Reuters reports:

The Biden administration on Tuesday finalized a reversal of a rule issued under then-U.S. President Donald Trump that sought to pre-empt California’s vehicle emissions regulations.

The Department of Transportation said it was issuing final rules rescinding the Trump action, which sought to bar the most populous state in the nation from setting vehicle rules that might conflict with the federal government’s authority to set Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements.

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3rd Gear: The 2021 Metal Rankings Are In! Palladium Roasted As “Worst Metal”

I thought this was a fun headline from Bloomberg and read it just for a laugh: Palladium Is Poised for a Rebound After Being 2021’s Worst Metal. I was charmed by the idea of a metal being “best” or “worst,” as opposed to an inert and thoughtless, emotionless, will-less material. As it turns out, there is a car connection as automakers have been shifting away from palladium use. From Bloomberg:

The silvery-white metal, around 85% of which is used in pollution-reducing catalytic converters in gasoline engines, had been rising since mid-2018 on auto demand and supply constraints. The rally went into reverse this year as the global chip shortage crimped consumption and technological advances also made it easier to use much-cheaper platinum in the converters.

That’s seen palladium plummet 25% in 2021, in stark contrast to robust gains across most of the commodities complex. Only iron ore, hit by China’s property market crisis, and silver have come close in terms of losses.

[...]

A rebound in auto production should create upside in palladium in 2022, Morgan Stanley said in a note this month. The bank sees the metal averaging $2,100 an ounce next year, compared with a current spot market price of about $1,827.

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EVs don’t use cats, so the writing is kind of on the wall for palladium. If that metal had feelings, I’m sure they’d be hurt. Or maybe the palladium likes being in the ground and hates being dug up for use in cars. Who knows.

4th Gear: New York Utility Is Blending Green Hydrogen With Natural Gas

This is an interesting use of hydrogen from Long Island, as Bloomberg’s CityLab details:

Last week, lawmakers in New York City passed a bill banning natural gas hookups in all new buildings, becoming the largest U.S. city to enact measures restricting builders from installing gas-fueled stoves, furnaces and water heating systems in new construction.

The ban, which is set to take effect in 2023 for buildings under seven stories, joins similar regulations in Berkeley and Seattle; they’re part of the movement to “electrify everything” as a means of bringing down carbon emissions from energy use in buildings. But even as New York City signaled its intentions to move away from fossil fuels, National Grid — a local utility that opposed the city ban — committed to making its existing natural gas infrastructure cleaner and greener.

On Dec. 15, National Grid and the Long Island town of Hempstead announced the “HyGrid Project,” a program to blend zero-emission “green” hydrogen into the natural gas distribution system to heat about 800 homes and fuel at least 10 municipal vehicles.

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Apparently there’s only so much hydrogen you can blend into natural gas before you start destroying your equipment, but it’s still interesting.

5th Gear: Please Enjoy This Article About Trying To Run An E-Bike Company

I would not want to be dealing with the global supply chain at the moment, and that’s why I wouldn’t want to be running e-bike company Pedago. Demand skyrocketed in the pandemic, and that was a problem, as the Financial Times details:

Pedego uses eight factories fanned across Asia, with five in China, two in Taiwan and one in Vietnam. The company ordered these factories to produce 37,000 bikes for the year across all models, DiCostanzo said. When it later tried to increase this order by 10,000, it was unable to do so because the parts were unavailable.

Pedego made the Element’s first pre-production prototypes in the spring of 2020, then placed an order for 5,000. The bikes shipped in early July from Shanghai and arrived in California six weeks later.

A year later, that same journey can last twice as long. It takes up to two weeks to even find a shipping container at the Port of Shanghai, DiCostanzo said. The company has started shipping bikes and batteries separately, because when packaged together they must go in a container for hazardous materials, which is even harder to source.

Crossing the Pacific Ocean adds another two weeks, but moving through the Port of LA-Long Beach can take up to six weeks. In one instance, a shipment of wicker bicycle baskets rotted in a container while it was waiting to be processed and moved out of the port.

The e-bikes then go to a warehouse in Orange County before travelling another one to two weeks to a dealership.

In addition to delays, prices have gone up throughout the supply chain Pedego’s spending has increased from $4,000 per shipping container to $23,000. Meanwhile, shipping a pallet with four bikes by truck from the company’s warehouse to a dealer has gone from $8 to $18 after freight operators raised their rates. 

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It’s December in the United States, so supply chain issues are basically a spectator sport.

Reverse: Gate To Hell Opens

Via AutomotiveHistory.Org:

The Lincoln Tunnel, passing underneath the Hudson River between New York City and Weehawken, New Jersey, opened on [December 22] 1937. The cost of the tunnel was a staggering $85 million, approximately $1.51 billion in 2016, and was funded by the depression era Public Works Administration. When the bridge opened it cost 50 cents per passenger of a vehicle each way. The original tunnel is 8,216 feet t (2,504-meters) but since the opening two more tubes have been added to handle increased traffic.

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Neutral: What Are Your Metal Rankings?

Let’s give it up for brass, folks, a strong brazing material.