Electric Cars and the Climate

February 16, 2023

An EV charging at a shopping center in California

Replacing all gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles won’t be enough to prevent the world from overheating, says a new U. of California reportThe report offers a look at the environmental and economic sacrifices needed to meet net-zero climate goals,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 13, 2023).

The study notes three problems:

Problem No. 1: Electric-vehicle batteries require loads of minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, which must be extracted from the ground like fossil fuels. If today’s demand for EVs is projected to 2050, the lithium requirements of the US EV market alone would require triple the amount of lithium currently produced for the entire global market. Unlike fossil fuels, these minerals are mostly found in undeveloped areas that have abundant natural fauna and are often inhabited by indigenous people. Mining can be done safely, but in poor countries it often isn’t.

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EV Plans Hinge on Made-in-America Batteries

February 8, 2023

Companies and the U.S. government are shelling out billions of dollars to establish a supply chain for batteries in North America, a manufacturing effort that is critical to the auto industry’s long-range plans to put more electric vehicles on the road.

Batteries are the most expensive component in an electric vehicle, accounting for about one-third of its cost, reports The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 7, 2023).

Lithium, produced at this site in Nevada, is among the minerals that are crucial battery components.

American electric-car makers traditionally haven’t assembled batteries themselves. They rely on a far-flung supply chain. The raw materials are mined primarily in countries such as Australia, China, Congo and Indonesia. Chemical processing, battery components and assembly are mostly done by Chinese companies.

A recently passed law provides incentives for North American-built batteries and penalizes car companies that source batteries abroad, is spurring a wave of new projects in the U.S.—from cell-making factories to new ventures to mine the raw materials.

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Why 99% of Big Projects Fail

February 6, 2023

Oxford economist Bent Flyvbjerg is an expert in the planning of “megaprojects,” huge efforts that require at least $1 billion of investment: bridges, tunnels, office towers, airports, telescopes, the Olympics. He’s spent decades studying the many ways megaprojects go wrong and the few ways to get them right. His new book How Big Things Get Done, is summarized in The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 4-5, 2023).

Spoiler alert! Big things get done very badly. They cost too much. They take too long. They fall too short of expectations too often. This is what Flyvbjerg calls the Iron Law of Megaprojects: “over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again.”

His work can be distilled into three pitiful numbers:

 47.9% are delivered on budget. 
 8.5% are delivered on budget and on time. 
 0.5% are delivered on budget, on time and with the projected benefits.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa Spain is a rare example of proper project planning

Flyvbjerg found that the complexity, novelty and difficulty of megaprojects heighten their risk and leave them vulnerable to extreme outcomes.  “You shouldn’t expect that they will go bad,” he says. “You should expect that quite a large percentage will go disastrously bad. Despite the fact that trillions of dollars had been spent around the world on such projects, nobody knew if they stayed on schedule or budget.”

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