Graphite Might Be the Source of Tesla’s Next Headache

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TeslaModelSChassisBattery

By and large, electric vehicles are viewed as a “green” alternative to gasoline-powered internal combustion engines solely based on their nature of not having to use gas. There are arguments that say electric vehicles are essentially no better, given that the methods of production of electricity to charge them can be based on coal or other less-green sources (therefore displacing, not replacing, the vehicle’s carbon footprint). Data have suggested that the power source doesn’t equate to the same environmental damage that gasoline production yields.

There is another argument, though, that may hold more weight and is a key issue that EV makers will have to address as their cars grow in popularity: The battery cells used in them aren’t exactly constructed from “green” materials, and one in particular — graphite — is causing problems in China, where the vast majority of it is produced. Graphite isn’t an exclusive material to cars like Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S or Toyota’s (NYSE:TM) Prius. It’s found in cell phones and any gadget that uses a lithium-ion battery cell. Cars, though, due to their sheer size, use plenty of it — about 110 pounds of graphite per vehicle.

Graphite pollution in China, caused by the mining and processing of the substance, has led the country to shut down a number of its mining sites and has polluted the air and water, caused damage to crops, and, naturally, raised health concerns.

“There’s little question that the Chinese are between a rock and a hard place environmentally,” Josh Landess, an advanced transportation analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told Bloomberg. “There’s an obvious irony that the disruption it’s causing is within the clean vehicle and transportation industry.”

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