We were waiting for it with curiosity: the preview of the film “A Contresense” broadcast on the internet on November 4 did not disappoint us, on the contrary. Picking up one by one the untruths and the “fake news” broadcast on certain media about the ecological and social footprint of the electric vehicle, Marc Muller and Jonas Schneiter left to investigate the field, in the mines of Congo, the salars in Chile or a battery recycling plant in Belgium. And they brilliantly show how information has been manipulated by certain lobbyists and interest groups to discredit the electric car.
Rare earths, cobalt, lithium, CO2 emissions, battery recycling: the electric car would not be as green as expected. At least, this is the image that has been conveyed for several years now by many media. “By dint of seeing dependent information, I decided to check it out for myself,” explains Marc Muller, a producer and journalist from RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse). With Jonas Schneiter and Zelda Chauvet, he conducted an investigation for 2 years. By using the great means since their search for the truth has led them to the cobalt mines of the Congo, to the salars of Chile – where lithium is mined – and to a battery recycling plant in Belgium. They also completely dismantled two cars, one electric (Renault Zoé), the other gasoline (Fiat Punto), the parts of which they analyzed under an electron microscope.
No rare earths in the batteries
First revelation: there are no rare earths in the Renault ZOE, neither in the battery nor in the engine. On the other hand, there is some in the catalytic converter of the Fiat Punto, as in those of most thermal cars.
For frequent visitors to Automobile Propre, this is no surprise. In fact, in a survey published in February 2018 we already explained to you that there are no rare earths in lithium-ion batteries. This demonstration in the film therefore brilliantly confirms that the lawsuit against EV batteries, which would contain rare earths whose extraction would be extremely polluting and disrespectful of human rights, is totally unjustified. Unfortunately, a good number of unscrupulous or not very serious journalists continue to propagate this fake news. In the film, Marc Muller notably visited Guillaume Pitron, author of the book The War of Rare Metals, and questioned him on the issue. In front of the camera, Guillaume Pitron once again repeated the lies and untruths that he propagates on all the channels.
Another element present in batteries is strongly criticized. Its extraction in the salt deserts (“salars”) of South America by pumping brines from depth, would scare the flamingos away and deprive the surrounding populations of drinking water. To find out, Marc Muller and his team traveled to the Attacama salt flat in northern Chile. After interviewing residents, conservationists, local NGOs and managers of the company SQM, responsible for the extraction, Marc Muller found no formal proof of the veracity of the accusations made about the exploitation of lithium. in these regions. “The fact is, there is no study proving that these pumpings are harmful to the environment, but neither does any,” he explains. Regarding the flamingos, other reasons may explain their rarity in the area: “There have been terrible droughts, interspersed with torrential rains which may have caused their displacement to neighboring regions,” he tells us.
On the other hand Marc Muller has discovered an interesting information communicated by SQM: lithium is actually a by-product, not to say a waste, resulting from the exploitation of the main element extracted in the salars: potassium. The production of lithium therefore does not consume additional water compared to that which is pumped to obtain potassium, which is highly prized for making fertilizers.
In passing, the film signals another essential information that we recently revealed in an article on the revolution-energetique.com site, the little brother of Automobile Propre: the majority of lithium used in the world and in batteries does not come from these salars in Latin America, but from mines located in Australia in which the extraction technique does not require water pumping.
Cobalt: no children in the mines
In the cobalt mines located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, around Kolwezi, Marc Muller and his team investigated the presence of children. 50 to 60% of the world’s cobalt production comes from this region. According to journalists, cobalt is mainly mined there in huge industrial mines. The most important is operated by the multinational Glencore. No child works there, for a simple reason: the production, entirely mechanized, is carried out by giant machines. The exploitation of children would therefore be of no use. So where do the photos of child labor in these mines come from? Answer: artisanal mines from which 20% of the cobalt mined in the country comes from. Half of them are legal and operated by well organized and supervised cooperatives. As Marc Muller has been able to verify, no children are used there. The other half are illegal mines. Poor residents and families dig the ground, often in their backyards, in search of cobalt ore, the resale of which provides them with meager income enabling them to survive. The authorities do not intervene because this activity is often the only means of subsistence of these families.
It is in these small family and illegal mines, which represent barely 5% of the world production of cobalt, that it is possible to photograph child labor… then to publish the images in sensational reports that will make around the world to tarnish the reputation of electric vehicles and their batteries.
What about the fate of end-of-life batteries? Contrary to the false rumor which circulates, their recycling is not only possible but made compulsory by a European directive. Auto Clean readers have known this for a long time, since we have already published 2 reports on recycling plants, one operated by SNAM near Lyon, the other by the German company Duesenfeld. It has also developed energy-efficient technology with a particularly low impact on the environment.
Marc Muller went to observe another, that of the Belgian group Umicore, located in Hoboken near Antwerp. Its conclusions are in line with what we have already explained to you: 95% of battery components are recycled, including cobalt “which can be reused endlessly,” says the journalist.
After the film was shown, we were able to attend a “virtual” debate in which Swiss aeronaut and environmentalist Bertrand Picard took part. It was notably an opportunity to return to a question already addressed in the film: what is the origin of all these lies and untruths that tarnish the green image of electric vehicles? “False information is spread in particular by oil lobbies” for whom the development of electromobility constitutes a serious threat, explains Marc Muller. He quotes in particular the Koch brothers, two American oil magnates. We already told you about this on this site in 2017 during a video called “The dirty secrets of electric cars” that they had funded and broadcast at the time.
“Some car manufacturers have also sought to discredit the electric car, in order to save time,” continues Marc Muller. “European manufacturers did not really believe in the development of electric vehicles. It took dieselgate to move forward because they lost all political support on that occasion. This context has completely turned them upside down, ”he confided in a recent interview. Particularly targeted, Carlos Tavares, the boss of PSA was not spared, neither in the film, nor during the debate which followed. “As we investigated, we noticed that the one who lied the most about electric vehicles was Carlos Tavares, the boss of PSA. He lied about electric vehicles, about the impact of vehicles in general on the climate. While at one time he was responsible for the EV program at Renault “.
The video is available for catch-up until November 14
For those who didn’t get a chance to catch the November 4 premiere, please note that the producers are giving you the opportunity to watch the video and debate “catch up” until November 14. To do this, go to the site https://acontresens-lefilm.fr/
Also note that journalists suggest you download the app “Prove it” which allows viewers to access the sources of the investigation to form their own opinion.
Regarding the subsequent broadcast of the film, it seems that negotiations are underway with several television channels, but nothing has yet been formally decided. Will it be possible to rent the film to show it in private circles, for example as an introduction to conferences, information sessions, debate evenings, etc. ? “We can tell you more by the end of the year,” replied Jonas Schneiter.