Indonesia is Suffering the Consequences of China's EV Explosion

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

Electric vehicle naysayers love to talk about the environmental impact of mining raw materials for batteries. While those arguments are often rooted in some degree of truth, they’re generally made as the only argument and are levied without much evidence for support. Though it’s true that mining and processing nickel, cobalt, lithium, and other materials is awful for the environment, we’re learning more about the geopolitical and financial implications of the practice. 

Jalopnik reported that a Chinese nickel refinery’s operation in Indonesia is destroying the local ecosystem and accelerating the decline in natural habitats for wildlife. The Indonesia Morwali Industrial Park is located on a large island in the country and has released so much pollution over the last ten years that locals can’t fish or use the water. 

People report warming waters and fewer fish, and in some cases, the once-bountiful rivers have turned into trickling streams of mud. Workers at the facility report sickness from inhaling chemicals and ash from the mining processes. For China, the impacts are far away and seemingly unimportant. Its financial resources and size give it a great deal of power in the arrangement, as the giant nation has invested billions and amassed a 61 percent stake in the total nickel production. 

As Jalopnik pointed out, the negative impacts of this partnership are felt solely by Indonesia. China is some 5,000 miles away from the island nation and has little concern for the destruction happening so far from its doorstep. As demand for electric vehicles accelerates, we’re likely to hear about more of these situations, and other such problems are going on right now. 

Earlier this year, Tesla agreed to invest billions of dollars in nickel and a potential battery factory in the country over the next few years. It seems odd that Indonesia would continue pursuing such investments, knowing the havoc they wreak on its environment. Still, it’s likely tough for the country’s leaders to ignore the goldmi-I mean, nickel mine under their feet.

[Image: jafriyalbule via Shutterstock]

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Chris Teague
Chris Teague

Chris grew up in, under, and around cars, but took the long way around to becoming an automotive writer. After a career in technology consulting and a trip through business school, Chris began writing about the automotive industry as a way to reconnect with his passion and get behind the wheel of a new car every week. He focuses on taking complex industry stories and making them digestible by any reader. Just don’t expect him to stay away from high-mileage Porsches.

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7 of 21 comments
  • Lne937s Lne937s on Nov 29, 2022

    Chinese battery manufacturers like BYD and CATL are quickly transitioning to lower-cost LiFePO4 chemistry. That does away with the need for nickel and cobalt in batteries.

    But if people are really concerned, they can stop buying stainless steel appliances, as stainless steel alloys consume the majority of nickel. And avoid everything "chrome" plated, which has a thick plating of nickel and a very thin layer of chromium on the top.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Nov 30, 2022

    The problem lies with poor safety and environmental practices not the minerals or products being manufactured.

    • See 3 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Nov 30, 2022

      @JeffS - my point is that you can ensure that any mining or manufacturing can be done in a clean and safe fashion. That costs money therefore reducing profits.

  • Geozinger Put in the veggie garden (Western Michigan, we still can get frost this late in the year) finished the remainder of the landscaping updates and hand washed both my beater Pontiac and the Town and Country! Going to the beach today...
  • Rochester I wouldn't obsess over the rate of change, it's happening whether we want it or not.
  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.