Edgar Ochoa
Administrative Secretary

June 2024

We had a fantastic meeting in May. 50 members and our speaker were in attendance at the Dept of Water & Power. If you read this newsletter, please come to the meetings. We really need to straighten out our industry! Both ASPE and ASHRAE are all in… hook, line and sinker.

Below is an article from a website sympathetic to the prevailing “wisdom” of taking away your gas appliances in the name of saving the planet from climate change… as though CO2 were a bad thing… unless it’s a refrigerant where it gets a GWP score of only 1. Questions: Did the Earth only make oil once? What exactly is “sustainabilty”? Does truth come from authority?


The Environmental Impact of Lithium

Lithium is typically mined through a process called brine mining, which involves extracting lithium from underground saltwater reserves. The risks in polluting local water sources arise here, with examples in Salar de Uyuni and Salar de Atacama. This process involves pumping saltwater to the surface, where it is evaporated to remove the lithium and other minerals. Despite being relatively energy-intensive, this remains one of the most cost effective ways to mine lithium nowadays.  Unfortunately, these toxic metals can contaminate water sources, threatening not only humans but also animal biodiversity.

Furthermore, some of the metals contained in EV batteries are highly damaging even in small quantities. Since a large majority of them are disposed of in landfills, leaks of environmental contaminants are quite frequent. Often, these leaks lead to underground fires, which release even more pollutants into the atmosphere. When particles of hazardous metals contained in batteries – like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, and copper – enter the human respiratory system, they can cause a variety of health problems.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, Gleb Yushin, a professor at the School of Materials and Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology with co-author Kostiantyn Turchenius argued that new battery technology needs to be developed using more common, environmentally-friendly materials.  As reserves of lithium and cobalt will not meet future demand, suggested elements to focus on instead include iron and silicon.

The Environmental Impact of Cobalt

Cobalt is mined through surface and underground mining. Surface mining is the process that involves removing the top layer of soil or rock to access minerals or metals, while underground mining involves digging tunnels and shafts to access minerals or metals located deeper below the surface.

Unlike Lithium where the supply is plentiful, there is more of an effort to meet the demand logistics for cobalt.  The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces 60-70% of the world’s Cobalt output.  However, the conditions of the mines in which Cobalt is produced has generated significant controversy in the media and abroad.  Still, the average, daily $3+ wage for miners is significantly more than the average wage in the country (where 73% of the population live below $1.9 a day).  A main reason why workers will continue to mine in these fields is the above average pay and thus the associated economic incentives resulting from artisanal mines. It is currently estimated that between 140,000-200,000 people work as artisanal miners in the DRC.

Nonetheless, the risks of cobalt mining on the human population in Congo is well documented, where mines are often operated in dangerous and polluted conditions.  The mining and refining processes are often labor-intensive practices and are associated with a variety of health problems as a result of accidents, overexertion, exposure to toxic chemicals and gasses.  Ontop of all this, violence is common throughout centered around racism, discrimination, and worker abuse.  The miners, known locally as creseurs, are so economically reliant on this informal economy that these dangerous conditions cannot afford full consideration.

The environmental costs of cobalt mining activities are also substantial. Southern regions of the DRC are not only home to cobalt and copper, but also large amounts of uranium. In mining regions, scientists have made note of high radioactivity levels. In addition, mineral mining, similar to other industrial mining efforts, often produces pollution that leaches into neighbouring rivers and water sources. Dust from pulverised rock is known to cause breathing problems for local communities as well.