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tv   Close up - The True Cost of Electric Cars  Deutsche Welle  November 27, 2018 2:15am-2:45am CET

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this is how germany's roads look these days too much traffic exhaust fumes and noise conventional auto mobility is reaching its limits. electric cars are meant to be part of the solution quiet and supposedly clean but how are the raw materials for their rechargeable batteries obtained. take lithium for instance and. sit in them but you run millions and millions of euros but they sacrifice human life for you they sacrifice animals physically ficarra they sacrifice life says a goofy colony that. cobalt is also essential nearly two thirds of the cobalt produced won't wide comes from the democratic republic of congo it's mined in shops like this one and all of that of others are posted sekulow the work is really very dangerous there are accidents almost every day on the site six. is electro mobility not as clean. as we all think it is.
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the. transport planners are pinning their hopes on electric cars they're still fairly rare but that's set to change soon. mobility researcher stephanie cutter is convinced of that. good enough and we assume that starting in the mid twenty twenty years we can expect at least fifteen percent of new vehicles registered to be electric vats would be fifteen to twenty million a newly registered electric vehicles in twenty twenty five yards one difference one says you know it's. millions of electric cars powered by rechargeable batteries when hundreds of kilograms they contain rare minerals manganese graphite cobalt and lithium each battery contains from twenty to thirty kilos of lithium carbonate.
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here deep underground lies the lithium that german car makers depend on the atacama desert in chile one of the driest places on earth. this allowed the atacama a huge salt flat lies in the north on the country's borders to argentina and bolivia. its surface is encrusted with salt for kilometers on end. but deep in the ground there is mineral rich water and that's where the lithium is to be found. this mine extracts the ultra light metal pumps bring the salt water from the ground up to the surface it ends up in huge pools. in the heat of the desert the water evaporates the pools in this mine alone cover forty four square kilometers. a landscape of evaporation
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pools stretches all the way to the arisan. it takes five months for the water to become a viscous substance. it contains about six percent lithium. ten trucks take the concentrate to a factory. there it will be processed further to make lithium carbonate. the mine uses enormous amounts of groundwater. about twenty one million liters every day. but the atacama desert is already one of the driest places on earth the brain almost never falls
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here. still where there is water there's life the small oases around the salt lot have been settled for millennia people here have always been good at rationing valuable water. a few crops a few goats that's their livelihood. jose to let is ninety two every day he still works in his garden there's more sand than soil live round he tills but when there's water his plot as fruit. right. has plough fakes even oranges normally everything grows year. after her brood. he can still live from the fruits of his labor yet but water is becoming scarcer all the time. we have very little water it was came from
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the canal. but look at this now there's no more water flowing through it we're going to get our. farmer christian espen is also worried that soon nothing will grow here. but this used to be a small oasis they will people here animals and fields. if but it was paradise what we had enough water for life animals pure nature not that i wouldn't. have to come as farmers no longer have a future to stand as spindle is sure the lithium mines are at fault. it was a cool everything's a hardship because the mining companies to pump out the groundwater they've dried out the village. on the mining companies of course there's it's death the
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german car makers need huge amounts of lithium the impact here is dramatic because they see it in a little over the moon you people at the other end of the world you should know this they produce lithium and make victims of us they earn millions and millions of euros but they sacrifice human life on this. sacrifice animals if you lie sacrifice life. and you know that's how the world is and nobody cass in window is bessie. and that view. the indigenous farmers on the atacama salt flat face an uncertain future. more and more new evaporation pools are being built. chile aims to more than quadrupled its lithium production by twenty twenty five to up to three hundred fifty thousand tonnes
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a year mainly because of the rising demand from carmakers. but resistance against mining is increasing as it is here the away says village of paina lies on the southern rim of the salt lot there are mines everywhere. sasha could be zero is captain of the local football team he's also head of pain his indigenous community for millennia these people have lived in the few places where there's water then the chilean government sold the water rights oh. but upward been able to make money they suddenly guaranteed all the water rights to the mining companies we've illiterate sometimes have to turn off our water so that we have some for the next day. via what we don't understand how people can have no water while the mining companies keep wasting it sort of you know continuous with
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martin. but it's not just humans here who are affected by the mines so are the flora and fauna on the salt lakes they're home to various species of flamingo the birds feed on tiny algae and crustaceans lithium mining is threatening that ecosystem. my ologist matilda lopez from the university of santiago has no doubt about that she and her coworker jorge are travelling to assault like today even from her car she can see that things have changed. when it goes. just so. i'm worried about the large area of dried up lagoon on this site so this history all the places where you now see only salt used to have water i was told there were no salt flats here but there was water. matilda lopez started her research in the early one nine hundred eighty s.
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back then everything was in order then the lithium mines came. on. and more and more water was pumped out that caused the groundwater table to sink and with it the water levels in the lagoons. belted out that has an impact on the small animals and plants the flamingos feed on and when the endian flamingo becomes extinct so will the fox the final link in the future in. the with no and them being. so it's not just the majestic birds that are affected the salt lagoons are a multifaceted ecosystem in the otherwise inhospitable atacama desert some animals exist nowhere else in the world the water table is sinking this lagoon is becoming
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saltier and the biologists measurements bear that out. the scientists find scarcely any small organisms in their samples but the flamingos depend on them and. with the unfettered that gamma the sun not the atacama used to be home to the largest population of indian flamingos in the high end these cornish with the lithium mining that's now planned to flamingos will survive get the money go. for millennia nature was an equilibrium here then industrial countries needed rechargeable batteries for their smartphones and clean cars what followed was a lithium rush. santiago the chilean capital raw materials account for about a third of chile's economic output they play important foreign currency into the country but it's money from which the city of santiago mainly benefits.
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chile's minister of mining has no intention of giving up the income generated by lithium. illegal lithium is a natural resource that's currently in high demand for electromagnetism and it boosts the national economy. by i should learn from other countries that have not sacrificed their environment for these resources by a security nonsense if you go you know i think environmental protection a mining can be compatible if companies invest in the latest technology. will be the internet of you. matilda lopez doesn't believe new technologies can be of any help she says the effects of mining in the arctic on a desert are too severe even today.
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she's already worried about what she might find on her next visit to the salt plot . folks wagons transparent factory in dresden is a showcase for electro mobility the world's biggest carmaker is making its new here the company aims to be the market leader in electric cars by twenty twenty five. the factory made collets transparent but v.w. is less so when asked. where the lithium for its batteries originates. please kindly note that we cannot comment on our suppliers or sub suppliers as the information is competitively sensitive. b.m.w. in contrast does at least admit that lithium from chile is used in its e-commerce and invoices responsibility for the local environment. we always choose our
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suppliers based on the strictest criteria where sustainability is concerned. and. locally there's no sign that these statements have any effect german carmakers are faced with a dilemma right now they're dependent on lithium from chile for calls but there may be an environmentally friendly alternative in the long term. that's because there are deposits of the valuable light metal in the all mountains that straddle the czech german border once ten was mined in these pits soon miners will be digging for lithium. at least that's what army moola plans to do he's head of the deutsche lithium company he wants to start next year. that's for you act was not the project must be carried out soon because the current market prices of lithium and lithium compounds are very high and the sooner the product is on the
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market the more we can take advantage of these high prices and money is coming from . really needs the high prices to make underground mining financially viable. exploratory drilling has been successful according to miller's calculations the lithium reserves would be enough for some ten million cars but environmentally friendly mining would still have to overcome several obstacles. virtue in south lawn and environmental protection regulations are very strict in germany as they should be there stricter than other regions on earth like south america of course those restrictions will make mining more expensive. so perhaps lithium from germany could replace at least some chilean lithium. but there's another raw material that german car makers urgently need for their
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aleck trivia cause cobalt the batteries contain between ten and fifteen kilograms of the metal. nearly two thirds of the world's production comes from a single country the democratic republic of congo. president joseph kabila rules with an iron hand one way he funds his regime is by selling cobalt. this is where it comes from the mining city of coal raese in the south of the r.c. some five hundred thousand people live here. in. the city sits on a huge deposit of cobalt or its excavated in a mine on the city limits that belongs to a chinese company. there
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are only a few jobs for local residents many have to make do with what they can scavenge on the slag heap. practically none of the money german car makers pay for cobalt arrives in ca ways and. very few people have clean water. there's no sewage system. no waste disposal. everywhere in the city there's dirt and refuse but the locals also want to profit from the kobo. home in a mine your coase e about five thousand men are searching for the coveted mineral on their own with
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them are many children. manuel and his men are here every day they've been digging in their shaft for three years. we don't have a license to look for cobalt here when we've sold this or we bribe the mind supervisors and the police they leave us alone just let you know if you give me one . they have no professional equipment just cheap headlamps they go down barefoot and with no safeguards it's a vertical drop of forty five meters. in them. they use their hands and feet to support themselves on the walls of the shaft.
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zone. the only way forward. down in the mine it's cramped and stuffy. are the ones in. the miners hack at the rock with rudimentary tools then they scoop the cobalt bore into sacks. all. digital globe believe you after just a few minutes where they air is full of cobalt dust it's highly toxic and causes severe lung damage. without face masks breathing becomes increasingly difficult. down with. all. at least six men are needed to pull the sacks up to the surface. it's exhausting work. to put it
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all on. the rocks contain about eighty percent cobalt you know the men are risking their lives day in day out for a battery component. while much of what the most number of people die from accidents than other chefs because they take no safety measures but we had to separate the risks so we've been fine because when you come up to me that you. look up to twenty percent of the cobalt from the d.r.s. comes from these small mines that get dug somehow somewhere. because so little at the other end of coase the. cobbled was discovered here four years ago. is that. the entire village is now
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virtually riddled with mines every few meters there's a shaft that goes deep into the earth often right next to the huts where people live. their. lives but the cobalt rush has scarcely changed the inhabitants poverty latrines like this are standard. bribe them are. all going to leap is one of those who wanted to make big profits from cobalt because. it didn't happen. to see any life here in the mining area is extremely tough all we want to do is leave but we have no money stuck in the mud hut he shares with his wife and their two children is about eight square metres in size two tiny rooms no electricity no water.
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no toilet. ludovico course is a very dangerous place especially for the children there are deep shafts everywhere my wife always has to stay with the children so they don't fall in love with that and you know now she's pregnant and not feeling well that makes it difficult you know but the reality. of the shots poses a deadly danger for the children. not . descending into the mines is also hazardous but the men are glad to have any work at all and earn at least a little money. and they do it even though the shops could collapse at any time.
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the rock containing the or is extremely porous. but. the work is really very dangerous there are accidents almost every day on the sides because the soil is so unstable and it's the ability to see to look government doesn't help us at all be ready to go in pursuit. everywhere in the village there are shops that have collapsed time and again workers are buried alive. the men are underground from morning till evening despite that the money often doesn't even cover the most basic necessities.
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softball children only go to school if their parents can pay if not they stay at home or if they are they help their mothers wash the stones all of the law and yet it. the men take the socks to the washing area. and there the rocks are cleansed from dust and dirt. and this is the women's responsibility to. cut. it up. only after washing can valuable or be separated from worthless rock fragments. many children go with their mothers to the washing area they've never been to school. they spend the time scraping up leftover bits of cobalt. and.
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the home village sells the war to chinese middlemen. but many people feel they're being cheated. us run the crows who knows when the chinese way are all right always trying to double cross us. but they claim that our all contains only three percent cobalt but the bloody thing about the evil when it contains ten percent of them a day in the fields. this is where the cobalt or buyers said it was some pull mineral market outside conway's the. trade is firmly in chinese hands . the price depends on the cobalt content to determine up the oil is pulverized and measured with an x. ray florescence spectrometer. trucks take the minerals to the nearest port. many deliveries go to refineries in
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asia. for years and has been tracking the routes congolese cobalt war takes is an expert on the mineral trade at amnesty international. just to help get charged as she asked study has shown that chinese companies in the congo by the offer marches on and minds send it on to be refined in china and from there the metallic cobalt goes to the producers of battery components and batteries . and those batteries end up in german electric cars too and they're all indoors. so germany probably contain cobalt from small mines in the. german carmakers comments are vague. dialer rights. to supply chains include a great many sub suppliers and are thus to some extent very complex that makes it
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hard to verify the origin of raw materials. we strive to ensure that our supply chains process only cobalt that comes from industrial mines with suitable sustainability standards. other carmakers present similar arguments they consider it to be mainly their suppliers responsibility but that doesn't solve the problems in the d r c. at the battery research center in one scientists are working on a truly clean solution a lithium ion battery that works entirely without cobalt for years they've been working on a rechargeable battery of the future now they've almost reached their goal. to be all in pickert we've now developed the materials with energy densities comparable to or even better than those containing cobalt. we can already believe. small cells
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and we're trying to upscale this material to kilogram levels. at present we can produce about one hundred or two hundred grams of this material from what we are now is progressing to a ten kilograms. seed cuticle washed out. cobalt free batteries could be a reality in five years' time until then experts say responsibility lies with german carmakers. it's come mixed cannot be the case that here in germany we drive environmentally friendly electric vehicles while the role materials for their components a mind in developing countries under the most appalling circumstances in. environmental damage from lithium mining in chile. up does not leave the body in human working conditions in the d.r. see for the good the bad as well as the price of a lecture mobility of her i don't want to do not move global to
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