By Don Keelan
Recently, numerous media stories have covered the troubles at many of the country’s top tech companies. Christopher Mims’s recent Wall Street Journal piece, “Twilight of the Tech Gods,” notes, “America’s biggest tech companies have collectively lost more than $2 trillion in value on the stock market.”
Mims notes that things are not going well at Twitter for Elon Musk, Amazon for Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook (Meta Platforms). Add to this the recent collapse of Silicon Valley’s poster child company, FTX. This premier cryptocurrency company, headed by Sam Bankmen-Fried, went from a $32 billion enterprise to bankrupt in a week.
These tech leaders were considered the country’s brightest minds regarding high-tech and revolutionary manufacturing, investing, finance, and economic changes.
This brings me back to the electric vehicle market: the stampede to substitute new technology to operate our transportation systems and how we heat our homes and businesses. How well have all the proposed changes been thought through?
For one thing, an EV runs on a battery. Fine, but where do most of the metals come from to make the battery, at least for now? Bart Ziegler’s piece in the November 14 WSJ states that about 90% of lithium comes from Zimbabwe, Australia and China.
Then there is the critical material: cobalt, of which 72% comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not a very nice place to travel to these days.
Another critical battery ingredient is nickel; approximately 70% comes from Russia, China and other Asian countries. Some may think that this is not worrisome until you realize that about 75%, if not more, of these metals are refined in China.
In time, we may manufacture all the battery parts in America, but when? While we are waiting, we need to remember that an EV has about 1,300 semi-conductor chips versus about 600 in a fossil fuel vehicle. And where are most chips made for the automotive industry: Taiwan, which the PRC has every intention of invading, similar to what its ally Russia did to Ukraine in February.
According to Ziegler, the magnets that run EV motors are made from rare-earth materials, such as neodymium and dysprosium. Most of the products’ production is in China, where our country’s relationship goes from bad to worse daily.
Of course, “the brains” behind the EV conversion have been thoughtful, so much so that the Biden administration is advancing hundreds of billions of dollars to overcome the above-noted distractions. Unfortunately, the solution could be decades away, not by 2030 or 2035 when all fossil fuel cars and truck sales stop.
Nowhere in the EV usage proponent briefings are any plans for transitioning from fossil fuels in homes and transportation to EVs. When we are halfway through the conversion, will there be any mechanics to repair the existing fossil fuel vehicles or home furnaces? Are there any gasoline stations to provide fossil fuels? These topics have been deliberately unaddressed. Why? Because they have yet to be thought through. The answers are unpleasant for the politicians and the climate crises converts.
Vermonters may or may not relate the tech industry debacle to happenings here at home in the all-electric conversion. Pay attention to this point: GMP, a Canadian-owned company that supplies most of Vermont’s electric power through its relationship with Hydro-Quebec, has complete control over us. Moreover, a senior HQ engineer was recently arrested by the RCMP for espionage, for trading his company’s secrets to China.
The debacle in the cryptocurrency industry has also been a hardship for thousands. Similarly, EV conversion and full electrification could be life-threatening for millions if not thoroughly thought out. Keep an eye on Europe this winter for a foreshadowing.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.