Mythbusting your comments about cobalt in fuel & EV batteries | Auto Expert John Cadogan

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Warning: This report contains nuts.

Recently I reported on what I’d learned after driving 9000 kilometres in the Kona Electric EV. One of those 12 was about cobalt - which is currently an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries used in EVs (and nearly all portable electronic devices - such as phones, cameras, tablets and laptops). And the EV fan-boys hated what I said, apparently.

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Cobalt is also a significant human rights issue - involving fairly grubby child labour exploitation in places like the DRC. You’re not supposed to like this, but it’s a thing, and it’s likely to get worse as demand for cobalt accelerates thanks to the proliferation of EVs.

You’ve seen governments and carmakers championing the virtues of EVs. They’re generally pretty silent - deafeningly silent - on the how they will ensure the cobalt they will rely on to electrify transportation doesn’t involve human rights abuses.

Of course, this fact does not suit the world of the EV nutbag, and I got hundreds of authoritative-sounding fringe comments as a result. Like this one, from Roy King.

“Remember, cobalt is used in the petroleum refining process to produce low sulphur fuels. It is in the fuel you buy, and it comes out the exhaust and into the environment. Good luck recycling that cobalt into anything…” Roy King

Roy … dude: Cobalt is used in refineries as a catalyst for the desulphurisation of fuel. Catalysts help reactions occur but they don't take part. (They lower the activation energy, but apart from that they’re just chemical voyeurs.)

Therefore, cobalt is not actually 'in' any fuel you buy. Therefore, it does not spew from the exhaust. Nor does it enter the environment. So there’s that.

And the catalysts in refineries are in fact quite recyclable. Refiners have been recycling spent catalysts into fresh catalysts and specialist materials for many years now - as this report onscreen from the journal ‘Digital Refining’ (from 2013) clearly shows. But apart from that, Roy: Well done there, respecting the facts.
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