Home » Technology » eVTOLs: Does Mineral Madness Lurk Beyond Lithium-Ion?

eVTOLs: Does Mineral Madness Lurk Beyond Lithium-Ion?

Demand, and mining, for many minerals will dominate the future of transportation

Illustration depicting electric vehicles versus gas powered cars.
This graphic from Visual Capitalist (https://elements.visualcapitalist.com/) illustrates the pluses and the paradoxes EVs will face.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are lighting up the future of transportation at almost every turn. And that ‘e’ in eVTOLs, that’s the spark an emerging global aviation industry is counting on to ignite what promises to be a multi-trillion dollar industrial sector by 2040.

But, dig a little deeper – you’ll need to, this is all about mineral extraction – and you’ll soon learn it’s not just lithium that eVTOL manufacturers need to power the vertical lift behind their ambitions.

Beyond Lithium Mining

A conventional gasoline-powered car battery uses two minerals: copper and lithium. An electric vehicle uses more than eight minerals: copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite, zinc, and rare earths (a group composed of 17 chemical elements) – six times as many minerals as conventional cars.

Where do most of those minerals currently reside? Primarily, in the People’s Republic of China.

The financial markets have taken notice. Mineral prices have risen anywhere from 33 percent to more than 500 percent in a sector where prices have historically been falling.

Manufacturers and suppliers, however, have not been asleep at the wheel. They have struck deals for minerals with Germany, Spain, Portugal, South Korea, Australia, Chile, and Mozambique, to name a few. Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of nickel, has restricted the export of some of its minerals to drive the value-add of processing its mineral in-country.

The Time for Mineral Processing Is Now

Bringing mineral processing plants online is a rigorous process, taking, on average, 8 to 10 years. As demand for electric cars rises, eVTOL manufacturers, such as Joby or Eve, need to plan and negotiate now if they expect to compete for raw materials with the likes of General Motors, Volkswagen, BMW, or Nissan.

Mining for minerals has historically been a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) proposition, but communities around the world will have to “pick their poison,” so to speak. Continue down a doomed, polluted path of fossil fuels or plan for a future filled with UAVs and air-taxis powered in a sustainable (and that means profitable too!) environment.

Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.