Batteries . . .

the SLIDER

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Jun 11, 2015
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This is a little long on read, but easy read, and very interesting, all in one simple story and worth the read.



When I saw the title of this lecture, especially with the picture of the scantily clad model, I couldn’t resist attending. The packed auditorium was abuzz with questions about the address; nobody seemed to know what to expect. The only hint was a large aluminum block sitting on a sturdy table on the stage.



When the crowd settled down, a scholarly-looking man walked out and put his hand on the shiny block, “Good evening,” he said, “I am here to introduce NMC532-X,” and he patted the block, “we call him NM for short,” and the man smiled proudly. “NM is a typical electric vehicle (EV) car battery in every way except one; we programmed him to send signals of the internal movements of his electrons when charging, discharging, and in several other conditions. We wanted to know what it feels like to be a battery. We don’t know how it happened, but NM began to talk after we downloaded the program.



Despite this ability, we put him in a car for a year and then asked him if he’d like to do presentations about batteries. He readily agreed on the condition he could say whatever he wanted. We thought that was fine, and so, without further ado, I’ll turn the floor over to NM,” the man turned and walked off the stage.



“Good evening,” NM said. He had a slightly affected accent, and when he spoke, he lit up in different colors. “That cheeky woman on the marquee was my idea,” he said. “Were she not there, along with ‘naked’ in the title, I’d likely be speaking to an empty auditorium! I also had them add ‘shocking’ because it’s a favorite word amongst us batteries.” He flashed a light blue color as he laughed.



“Sorry,” NM giggled then continued, “three days ago, at the start of my last lecture, three people walked out. I suppose they were disappointed there would be no dancing girls. But here is what I noticed about them. One was wearing a battery-powered hearing aid, one tapped on his battery-powered cell phone as he left, and a third got into his car, which would not start without a battery. So I’d like you to think about your day for a moment; how many batteries do you rely on?”



He paused for a full minute which gave us time to count our batteries. Then he went on, “Now, it is not elementary to ask, ‘what is a battery?’ I think Tesla said it best when they called us Energy Storage Systems. That’s important. We do not make electricity – we store electricity produced elsewhere, primarily by coal, uranium, natural gas-powered plants, or diesel-fueled generators. So to say an EV is a zero-emission vehicle is not at all valid. Also, since forty percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. is from coal-fired plants, it follows that forty percent of the EVs on the road are coal-powered, n’est-ce pas?



He flashed blue again. “Einstein’s formula, E=MC2, tells us it takes the same amount of energy to move a five thousand pound gasoline-driven automobile a mile as it does an electric one. The only question again is what produces the power? To reiterate, it does not come from the battery; the battery is only the storage device, like a gas tank in a car.”



He lit up red when he said that, and I sensed he was smiling. Then he continued in blue and orange. “Mr. Elkay introduced me as NMC532. If I were the battery from your computer mouse, Elkay would introduce me as double-A, if from your cell phone as CR2032, and so on. We batteries all have the same name depending on our design. By the way, the ‘X’ in my name stands for ‘experimental.’



There are two orders of batteries, rechargeable, and single-use. The most common single-use batteries are A, AA, AAA, C, D. 9V, and lantern types. Those dry-cell species use zinc, manganese, lithium, silver oxide, or zinc and carbon to store electricity chemically. Please note they all contain toxic, heavy metals.



Rechargeable batteries only differ in their internal materials, usually lithium-ion, nickel-metal oxide, and nickel-cadmium.



The United States uses three billion of these two battery types a year, and most are not recycled; they end up in landfills. California is the only state which requires all batteries be recycled. If you throw your small, used batteries in the trash, here is what happens to them.



All batteries are self-discharging. That means even when not in use, they leak tiny amounts of energy. You have likely ruined a flashlight or two from an old ruptured battery. When a battery runs down and can no longer power a toy or light, you think of it as dead; well, it is not. It continues to leak small amounts of electricity. As the chemicals inside it run out, pressure builds inside the battery’s metal casing, and eventually, it cracks. The metals left inside then ooze out. The ooze in your ruined flashlight is toxic, and so is the ooze that will inevitably leak from every battery in a landfill. All batteries eventually rupture; it just takes rechargeable batteries longer to end up in the landfill.



In addition to dry cell batteries, there are also wet cell ones used in automobiles, boats, and motorcycles. The good thing about those is, ninety percent of them are recycled. Unfortunately, we do not yet know how to recycle batteries like me or care to dispose of single-use ones properly.



But that is not half of it. For those of you excited about electric cars and a green revolution, I want you to take a closer look at batteries and also windmills and solar panels. These three technologies share what we call environmentally destructive embedded costs.”



NM got redder as he spoke. “Everything manufactured has two costs associated with it, embedded costs and operating costs. I will explain embedded costs using a can of baked beans as my subject.



In this scenario, baked beans are on sale, so you jump in your car and head for the grocery store. Sure enough, there they are on the shelf for $1.75 a can. As you head to the checkout, you begin to think about the embedded costs in the can of beans.



The first cost is the diesel fuel the farmer used to plow the field, till the ground, harvest the beans, and transport them to the food processor. Not only is his diesel fuel an embedded cost, so are the costs to build the tractors, combines, and trucks. In addition, the farmer might use a nitrogen fertilizer made from natural gas.



Next is the energy costs of cooking the beans, heating the building, transporting the workers, and paying for the vast amounts of electricity used to run the plant. The steel can holding the beans is also an embedded cost. Making the steel can requires mining taconite, shipping it by boat, extracting the iron, placing it in a coal-fired blast furnace, and adding carbon. Then it’s back on another truck to take the beans to the grocery store. Finally, add in the cost of the gasoline for your car.



But wait - can you guess one of the highest but rarely acknowledged embedded costs?” NM said, then gave us about thirty seconds to make our guesses. Then he flashed his lights and said, “It’s the depreciation on the 5000 pound car you used to transport one pound of canned beans!”



NM took on a golden glow, and I thought he might have winked. He said, “But that can of beans is nothing compared to me! I am hundreds of times more complicated. My embedded costs not only come in the form of energy use; they come as environmental destruction, pollution, disease, child labor, and the inability to be recycled.”



He paused, “I weigh one thousand pounds, and as you see, I am about the size of a travel trunk.” NM’s lights showed he was serious. “I contain twenty-five pounds of lithium, sixty pounds of nickel, 44 pounds of manganese, 30 pounds cobalt, 200 pounds of copper, and 400 pounds of aluminum, steel, and plastic. Inside me are 6,831 individual lithium-ion cells.



It should concern you that all those toxic components come from mining. For instance, to manufacture each auto battery like me, you must process 25,000 pounds of brine for the lithium, 30,000 pounds of ore for the cobalt, 5,000 pounds of ore for the nickel, and 25,000 pounds of ore for copper. All told, you dig up 500,000 pounds of the earth’s crust for just - one - battery.”



He let that one sink in, then added, “I mentioned disease and child labor a moment ago. Here’s why. Sixty-eight percent of the world’s cobalt, a significant part of a battery, comes from the Congo. Their mines have no pollution controls and they employ children who die from handling this toxic material. Should we factor in these diseased kids as part of the cost of driving an electric car?”



NM’s red and orange light made it look like he was on fire. “Finally,” he said, “I’d like to leave you with these thoughts. California is building the largest battery in the world near San Francisco, and they intend to power it from solar panels and windmills. They claim this is the ultimate in being ‘green,’ but it is not! This construction project is creating an environmental disaster. Let me tell you why.



he main problem with solar arrays is the chemicals needed to process silicate into the silicon used in the panels. To make pure enough silicon requires processing it with hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, trichloroethane, and acetone. In addition, they also need gallium, arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide, and cadmium-telluride, which also are highly toxic. Silicon dust is a hazard to the workers, and the panels cannot be recycled.



Windmills are the ultimate in embedded costs and environmental destruction. Each weighs 1688 tons (the equivalent of 23 houses) and contains 1300 tons of concrete, 295 tons of steel, 48 tons of iron, 24 tons of fiberglass, and the hard to extract rare earths neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium. Each blade weighs 81,000 pounds and will last 15 to 20 years, at which time it must be replaced. We cannot recycle used blades. Sadly, both solar arrays and windmills kill birds, bats, sea life, and migratory insects.



NM lights dimmed, and he quietly said, “There may be a place for these technologies, but you must look beyond the myth of zero emissions. I predict EVs and windmills will be abandoned once the embedded environmental costs of making and replacing them become apparent. I’m trying to do my part with these lectures.



Thank you for your attention, good night, and good luck.” NM’s lights went out, and he was quiet, like a regular battery.
 

esgeo

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So, I work in the oil and gas industry (my job is to explore for and produce oil and gas) and I would say this whole narrative is disingenuous at best, and is really just a politicizing attempt to impede technological progress that is becoming urgently necessary for the sustainability of our modern way of life. Frankly I don’t think this discussion belongs on BD, but being “a bit of an expert” on the subject, I am at least compelled to offer a simple counterpoint-

Regardless of any unintended consequences of our use of resources, we’re rapidly running out of cheap sources of energy while continuously increasing our appetite for energy. Battery storage, renewables, etc. should be seen as accretive technological advances to meet our growing energy needs going forward, and should be aggressively funded and developed as such.

If you want to read an actual thoughtful piece on the subject (as opposed to this pseudo factual scaremongering garbage), I’d like to direct your attention here (it’s a long essay but worth the read):

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2021-12-17/the-age-of-energy-disruptions/
 
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Let em eat 74
I think your inability to see both sides of the same coin is garbage. Try opening your eyes and you might not be considered such a dickhead in your day to day life.
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Blackfish

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I also read both. And as plj46 says, opposite sides for the most part. Sliders post isn't really anti "green/renewable" energy, but more about that it isn't as clean a pretty as those who are pushing it down everyone's throat, are making it out to be. The article you posted is from an obvious anti-oil/coal, pro-renewables green website/newsletter.

Yes, sliders was "pseudo factual scaremongering....", but not really "garbage".
 
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woodfish330

I'm to smart to figure out how to edit this.
  • Aug 14, 2012
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    I'm with you Brother PL. Like the internet... if there's an EMP... what you gonna do. They'll be looking for guys like us to."fix" that "OLD" technology. For this reason.... I have kept old radios.... old cars... and things completely free of "controlling" technology. Just in case...
     
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    jer dog

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    I'm with you Brother PL. Like the internet... if there's an EMP... what you gonna do. They'll be looking for guys like us to."fix" that "OLD" technology. For this reason.... I have kept old radios.... old cars... and things completely free of "controlling" technology. Just in case...
    Just like the big deal they made about the oil spill off Huntington,
    But don’t say much about the crap
    That goes into the Ocean from our southern neighbors.
     
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    sickcat

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    I also read both. And as plj46 says, opposite sides for the most part. Sliders post isn't really anti "green/renewable" energy, but more about that it isn't as clean a pretty as those who are pushing it down everyone's throat, are making it out to be. The article you posted is from an obvious anti-oil/coal, pro-renewables green website/newsletter.

    Yes, sliders was "pseudo factual scaremongering....", but not really "garbage".

    Very true that knowing the real cost and impact of any chosen energy source is a good thing that has often been hidden by those who profit from it.

    The petroleum industry have been told decades ago by their own scientists that releasing the amount of Co2 into the atmosphere the burning of fossil fuels has/does would have the impact that we have started to see. They chose the money. One of their experts projections was amazingly close to where we are now and is not pretty going forward. No doubt many in the green "revolution" will do the same if they are not held to act responsibly.

    That said on the surface electric transportation is a more energy efficient way of doing it. Not the fix to the problem but a step forward.

    I think I am blessed to live through the muscle car era but some of the electric cars coming along have some very impressive performance. I still get a little nostalgic when I smell burnt 2 stoke oil :D
     
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    Bend Session

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    Tech progression - its gonna happen and China will capitalize, especially is the good ole USA doesnt invent and/or manufacture here in the US>
     
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    One_Leg

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    Omarkayak

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    Definitely some perspectives to consider there--a lot goes into generating and storing electrical energy not the least of which are environmental costs. The bit does seem a little overwrought in places. I mean, it's not like there's no hazardous chemical use or massive amounts of mining going on aside from battery production--there's buttloads!

    And I had to laugh when I saw acetone listed as one of the hazardous chemicals of note, erma gerd! You certainly don't want to drink it, at least not straight up. o_O But to give an idea of how low its relative toxicity is, the EPA's screening level for acetone in soil is 61,000 parts per million by weight, and this is based on exposure of a child in a residential setting. That's more than 6 percent, which is more or less how much water is present in clean sand with typical residual moisture. For industrial settings, the screening level is 670,000 parts per million, two-thirds acetone and one-third soil! In other words, pretty much nobody is cleaning up acetone spills in soil anywhere.

    But to bring it on home, maybe it will all turn out to have been worth it when we can go hear a lecture spoken by a sentient electric vehicle battery. Wait, do I hear Daleks? Oh, never mind, was just the TV.

    Good fishin'!
    BDC OK
     
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