Home Bookend - Where reading meets review Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green – Henry Sanderson

Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green – Henry Sanderson

by Venky

(Image Credit: Simonandshcuster.net)

Doing his bit to buck the climate change/global warming trend, former Bloomberg correspondent Henry Sanderson traded his fuel guzzling petrol car in favour of a sleek Tesla. Fortunately, for hundreds of readers, Sanderson did not just stop at his purchase. Proceeding to satiate his curiosity about the entire supply chain undergirding the manufacture and sale of an electric vehicle, Sanderson exposed in spectacular fashion the dark underbelly representing a mad scramble for some of the rarest minerals on earth that are indispensable for “greening” and “decarbonizing” the transportation industry.  

From the merciless mining fields of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to the blazing desert sand of the Atacama in Chile; from the polluted seas of Papua New Guinea to a forgotten mining site with a storied history in Cornwall, Sanderson in a grim manner underscores how in an inexplicably ironic and paradoxical manner, the frenzy to honour environmental commitments, irreparable harm is caused to both the global ecology and to pockets of world economy. Pockets that are plagued by a resource curse.   Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM), a term used to describe the process of mining by hand instead of using sophisticated equipment, that has been a regular feature in the DRC has been regularly in the news for all the wrong reasons. A whole slew of allegations ranging from the employ of child labour to ‘exposure related’ oxidative DNA damage (most pronounced in children), have racked the nation which possesses the largest reserves of Cobalt in the world.  

Opportunistic Multinational giants such as Huayou Cobalt of China and Glencore of Switzerland, have swooped and sashayed into the DRC to cash in on the new Electric Vehicle boom. Initially unconcerned about the way the Cobalt was mined, or the environmental damage caused in the supply chain process, these entities made the most of a DRC struggling for stability following a civil war in the early 2000s. Locking in government-to-government contracts, Chinese companies laid and continue to lay claims to a predominant degree of the cobalt resources in the DRC.   As Sanderson elucidates in a grim fashion, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) plays a major role in the rush for extraction and exploitation of minerals. Gobbling up supply chains wholesale, contemporary Chinese tycoons backed by the enormous financial muscle of State backed financial institutions and riding on the back of the nation’s political might, have shown an insatiable fervour to ravage the very depths of the earth to possess some of the most valuable metals and minerals on the Planet.  

The Chinese mining company Tianqi bought a 51 per cent stake in the world’s largest lithium mine in Australia with the backing of the China Development Bank (CDB). Not to be left behind, the stainless-steel behemoth Tsingshan obtained a predatory monopoly over Cobalt in Indonesia. In fact, the influence of Tsingshan was so pervasive that the Indonesian Government – much to the chagrin of the world – imposed a ban on the export of nickel! A jaw-dropping eighty percent of the Cobalt output in the DRC is now the property of China.  

Sanderson, however, ends his book on an optimistic note. Comprehending that there were no benefits whatsoever in getting their collective noses out of joint, the West has finally realised the need for developing and maintaining alternative supply chains in order to reap the benefits of these rare metals.   In the year 2017, Swedish Company Northvolt, the brainchild of Peter Carlsson, a former Chief Purchasing Officer at Tesla, announced that it was on its way to enable the future of energy by developing the world’s greenest battery cell and establish a European supply of batteries. True to its claim, the Company, in collaboration with Scandia, unveiled a green battery that was capable of powering trucks for 1.5 million kilometers, in July 2022.   Meanwhile, English entrepreneur and jack of all trades, Jeremy Wrathall, displays single minded dedication and an unerring focus in reviving the lost and long tradition of Cornwall as a repository of mining by extracting lithium from the county’s hills. There is also a grandiose plan to mine the depths of the ocean to pump up precious metals that are apparently available in copious quantities.  

Volt Rush is an excellent, essential and energetic book that, while acknowledging the immense potential and upside of the electric revolution in automobiles, does not shy away from highlighting some inherent pitfalls and perils which the industry would do well to be cautious about.

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