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Electromobility: The raw materials are enough, but …


Electric cars with batteries or fuel cells should be the future of mobility because they are on the move without local emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Only a few such vehicles are still driving on the streets. In Germany, for example, their share is 2.6 percent. Some would like to speed up the transition from the burner to the alternative drives. However, a quick changeover is difficult due to the raw material situation. Their geological availability is not the only thing we should look for.

Six raw materials have been identified as a study that will gain significantly in importance through electromobility. The study has published the State Agency for New Mobility Solutions and Automotive Baden-W├╝rttemberg, or e-mobil BW for short. The authors refer to those raw materials that are important for the most important drive components.

For the batteries, this is primarily lithium. In addition, depending on the composition of the cathode cobalt, manganese, aluminum, iron phosphate and nickel and graphite for the anode. For the fuel cells, the precious metal platinum is needed as a catalyst, also graphite, titanium or stainless steel for the bipolar plates. Cabling will increase the demand for copper. Finally, for the electric motors neodymium and dysprosium, two rare earth metals are needed.

After detailed consideration, there are six remaining, which would have classified the study because of an increased supply risk and the high impact of a supply shortage as critical, says Benjamin Reuter, one of the study authors, in conversation with Golem.de: cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, platinum and the metals of the rare earths.

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It has been shown that the economically minable reserves of these raw materials are well enough to replace a quarter of the currently registered passenger cars – almost a billion – with electric or fuel cell cars. Platinum would then require about 10 to 22 percent of today's reserves – in numbers: 3,600 to 8,300 tons of an estimated 37,500 tons. Even if all cars were converted to fuel-cell propulsion, the platinum would be sufficient for this: The demand would then correspond to 40 to 88 percent of today's reserves.

Also with the other raw materials the occurrences suffice. The biggest demand is for cobalt: If every fourth car was an electric car, then at 48 percent, that would require almost half of the economically minable reserves (3.4 million tons of 7.2 million tons), followed by lithium 16 percent (2.3 million tons of 14.4 million tons).

A quick transition to electromobility, as many wish, would be difficult.