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Lithium-Ion Battery Production is Surging, but at What Cost?

Emma Foehringer-Merchant

In his first Tesla Motors master plan, Elon Musk wrote, “The overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.”

But as clean energy flourishes, the solutions from electric-vehicle companies and battery-makers have had a lot more to do with mining than Musk’s manifesto would suggest. Though an explosion in EVs and energy storage will allow countries to rely on less carbon-intensive energy, the extraction of essential ingredients to make cost-effective lithium-ion batteries generally leaves environmental and human devastation in its wake.