Electric Cars and the Mining Myth: Separating Fact from Fiction

Exploring the Environmental and Social Impacts of Battery Material Extraction

As the world transitions towards electric vehicles (EVs), concerns have been raised about the environmental and social consequences of mining the minerals needed for their batteries. Critics argue that the extraction of battery materials leads to environmental degradation and the exploitation of artisanal miners, particularly in regions like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In this article, we delve into the realities and myths surrounding the mining problem associated with electric cars.

The Claim and the Science

Opponents of the EV transition often highlight the expansion of battery material extraction and the resulting environmental degradation. Nigel Farage, a prominent right-wing politician, referred to electric vehicles’ “nasty secret” and the strain on the environment caused by mining for battery minerals. However, when compared to the overall mineral use of petrol and diesel vehicles, electric cars have a significantly lower impact. The International Energy Agency estimates that electric cars use 173kg more minerals, such as lithium, nickel, and copper, than petrol cars, excluding steel and aluminum. Nonetheless, these minerals are crucial for battery production, and the demand for lithium alone is projected to quadruple by 2030.

The Myth of Endless Mining

While concerns about mining for battery materials persist, it is crucial to recognize that the majority of these materials can be recycled, significantly reducing the need for new mining. According to Transport & Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based thinktank, recycling will enable the reuse of 80-90% of the metals extracted from batteries. This recycling process drastically reduces wasted materials compared to fossil fuels, which are consumed invisibly and contribute to climate change. T&E predicts that by 2030, the waste from battery materials in an electric car’s lifetime will amount to approximately 30kg, excluding fossil fuels burned for electricity generation. However, until countries fully decarbonize their electrical grids, the actual mineral toll will be higher.

The Scale of Mining and Land Use

Critics often overlook the scale of mining for battery materials in comparison to other resources. Auke Hoekstra, an energy transition researcher, highlights that less than 0.01% of the Earth’s habitable land is used for battery minerals, compared to 0.1% for all mining activities. While the extraction of battery materials still involves significant amounts of resources, such as lithium, it pales in comparison to the vast amounts of iron ore and oil extracted for steel and fossil fuels. Hoekstra emphasizes that the circularity of battery materials offers a chance to reduce the need for continuous mining.


The concerns surrounding the mining problem associated with electric cars should not be dismissed, as human rights abuses and environmental degradation are prevalent in many resource supply chains. However, the data suggests that resource extraction for electric cars will be significantly lower than that for petrol and diesel vehicles, thanks to recycling efforts. The responsibility lies not only with the buyers of battery minerals but also with the mining industry to address these issues. As the world continues its transition to electric vehicles, it is crucial to ensure that the mining industry seizes this moment to reform and prioritize sustainable practices.






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