Peter Zeihan has chosen to claim that the electric car revolution will start to fail around 2030 and “disappear” in the 2030s. This is another convenient claim that will give Peter Zeihan another stream of income lasting until he retires around 2040. It is something where EVs will continue to grow and scale but where there will be constant concerns about whether the growth will continue or slow. He has staked out an anti-EV opinion leader position. He will get paid for TV appearances, public speaking or consulting for combustion engine car and truck companies. Executives at those companies will want someone to create FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about electric cars.
Zeihan is Essentially Claiming There Will be Peak EV
There is also vagueness in the statements and a lack of falsifiability. What is a meltdown? Is it a regular recession? Those happen on a relatively regular basis. Zeihan allows you to fill in some interpretation on the listener’s part. The listener can re-interpret the statements years later having forgetten any at-the-moment context. The biased listener can help move the goalposts for Zeihan at the moment and even later.
I could have said in 2000 that the oil fracking boom would fizzle out and decline. The oil industry booms and busts all the time. It is difficult for the world to change. The oil fracking did decline substantially after regulations and policies turned less favorable.
I could have said in 1980 that the Personal Computing boom will fade and weaken. The PCs did peak and there was the laptop, notebook waves and then the smartphone and table waves. The mainframe computers and servers were never eliminated and servers and large computers resurged with cloud computing.
I can make thousands of statements of the form:
Within some number of decades (maybe one decade) there will be a major recession or decline in country or major emerging industry. The major emerging industry will have major supply chain issues (perhaps crippling supply chain).
Zeihan EV is of the same form as Peak Oil people. From 1965 to today, there have been booms and busts in the business of predicting the death of the oil industry. M. King Hubbert is often credited with introducing the notion in a 1956 paper that presented a formal theory and predicted U.S. extraction to peak between 1965 and 1971.
Peak oil is the hypothetical point in time when the maximum rate of global oil production is reached, after which it is argued that production will begin an irreversible decline. It is related to the distinct concept of oil depletion; while global petroleum reserves are finite, the limiting factor is not whether the oil exists but whether it can be extracted economically at a given price. A secular decline in oil extraction could be caused both by depletion of accessible reserves and by reductions in demand that reduce the price relative to the cost of extraction, as might be induced to reduce carbon emissions
Zeihan Audience and Revenue
There is money in being an Anti-EV alarmist. Advertising money and conference money and other consulting money.
Business consultants create the arguments to provide cover for executives to make decisions within corporations.
There will also be localities where someone wants to create a viable not in my backyard argument against a new lithium mine or some other new EV component factory or EV factory.
Tesla and Elon Musk have said that Master Plan 3 involves getting the needed mineral resources in a timely way to complete the ramp from 600 gigawatt hours/year or EVs and battery storage to ten terawatt hours per year of product. Tesla wants to be a major part of a 300 Terawatt hour electrification process.
History of Being Wrong and Still Gets on the Joe Rogan Show
Zeihan worked at STRATFOR and was trained and mentored by George Friedman.
STRATFOR is a geopolitical consultancy which was founded in 1996 by George Friedman. Friedman wrote the book “The Coming War with Japan” in 1991. For prediction accuracy, you may recall the terrible second war of the Pacific between the USA and Japan…Oh that’s right it never happened in our reality.
The book claimed a military confrontation between the United States and Japan is likely within the next 20 years. According to the authors, the issues are the same as they were in 1941: Japan needs to control access to its mineral supplies in Southeast Asia and to have an export market it can dominate. In order to do this, Japan must force the United States out of the western Pacific. There is little effort to explore the substantial differences between the 1940s and the 1990s.
Friedman had an anti-Japan consultancy for over a decade.
The 2005 prediction of Zeihan and STRATFOR:
In 2005, STRATFOR forecasted – China will suffer a meltdown like Japan and East and Southeast Asia before it. The staggering proportion of bad debt, enormous even in relation to official dollar reserves, represents a defining crisis for China. China will not disappear by any means, any more than Japan or South Korea has. However, extrapolating from the last 30 years is unreasonable. … At the same time that we see China shifting into a dramatically different mode.
Zeihan continues to run an anti-China consultancy for over a decade.
Zeihan has his anti-EV consultancy and public speaking business which he will run for over a decade.
They can be wrong about Japan and wrong about China and never get really called on it over decades. The media always needs a PRO and a CON representative. Zeihan purpose is to make an assured set of assertions and somewhat plausible argument that aligns with biases in a large segment of an audience.
Current EV and Battery Technology and Mineral Needs
It takes some time to prove the fallacy and BS in Peter Zeihan’s claim. It is part his strategy to make a simplified one to two-minute set of claims that can take ten minutes or more to completely or totally debunk.
This can also be difficult because many people want Peter’s claims to be true. Those people will not be convinced by logic or facts.
There are forecasts that there will shortages of key minerals for EV batteries but there is also a potential glut of LFP batteries. It is also possible that both events happen with a temporary 2 year glut of LFP batteries and a shortage of nickel batteries.
China’s new production capacity for lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathode materials tripled in the first three quarters of 2022, sparking speculations that an overcapacity crisis may emerge in the second half of 2023 or in 2024, according to supply chain experts. China’s battery makers have invested over $200 billion to build new iron LFP factories and supply chain to supply 2 terawatt hour per year by 2025. There was 300 GWh of EV batteries in 2021 and 600 GWh of EV batteries in 2022.
Substituting New Battery Chemistries and Radically More Efficient Mineral Usage
Iron LFP batteries have surpassed nickel batteries for supplying electric cars and iron LFP uses no nickel or cobalt. Iron LFP completely negates concerns about nickel and cobalt supply impacting ultra high production of EVs.
Tesla is also constantly reducing the wiring needed in electric cars and Elon is targeting eventually getting down to 300 feet of copper wiring for a Model Y.
CATL, the largest battery company in the world, is scaling up Sodium-Ion batteries. Sodium Ion batteries would eliminate lithium in all fixed energy storage and some electric cars.
People like Peter Zeihan who predict some kind of simple shortage scenario blocking the electric car revolution and fixed battery storage at massive scale are ignoring that these are rapidly becoming trillion dollar and multi-trillion dollar industries. Tens of billions of dollars every year are going into developing new mines, lithium refining, recycling and battery and EV research and development. It is like saying Apple would run into a roadblack scaling iPhones because of some mineral needed for the current generation of smartphones. Nvidia, Intel and TSMC would not be stopped scaling chip production and fabs because of some mineral limitation. In the science fiction book and Dune movies, they have the quote..”the Spice must flow.” Multi-trillion dollar per year industries will innovate and develop the resources needed to maintain production and growth.
For decades, there were people outside the oil industry who said that we would run out of oil and growth in oil would stop and decline. The oil industry developed deepwater drilling, shale oil production and other technologies and processes to maintain economic production growth. There will be challenges and limits to be overcome. There will be a lot of resources unlocked and innovation to realize the multi-trillion per year by 2030 prize and another ten times by 2040.
Lithium deposits commonly occur in rock formations in minerals (e.g., petalites, lepidolites, spodumene), clays, and in solution in brines (e.g., salars, geothermal systems). According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), lithium is extracted from brines that are pumped from beneath arid sedimentary basins and extracted from granitic pegmatite ores. The leading producer of lithium from brine is Chile, and the leading producer of lithium from pegmatites is Australia. Other potential sources of lithium include clays, geothermal brines, oilfield brines, and zeolites.
Australian company, Ioneer, plans to develop a lithium mine on federal land in Nevada. The mine would produce approximately 20,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate over the expected 26-year mine life. Piedmont Lithium is planning a spodumene mine and lithium hydroxide conversion operation on private land in North Carolina. Piedmont Lithium reports that the combined mine/hydroxide operation would produce 30,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year, for 20 years.
Noram Lithium Corporation, a Canadian company, plans to develop a lithium clay mining operation on federal land in Nevada, one mile from the Albemarle operation. The lithium would be processed near the mine site, and annual production of lithium carbonate is expected to be approximately 6,000 metric tons per year, for an initial period of 40 years.
In 2020, the California Energy Commission (CEC) estimated that the subsurface rock in the southern Salton Sea region contained subsurface brine with the potential to supply 40% of the world’s lithium demand and generate over $7 billion in annual revenue. The potential of this region to produce clean energy and lithium is so promising that the CEC set up the Lithium Valley Commission to further investigate opportunities in this area. The United States has the largest known geothermal resource in the world, with an estimated potential to provide up to 10% of the total US electricity capacity.
But geothermal resources at the Salton Sea don’t just offer renewable energy—the brine is full of minerals, including valuable metals like lithium, that could be extracted with the right technologies.
There is a 2021 NREL technoeconomic analysis for the cost of extracting lithium from the Salton Sea and geothermal brines. A review of these projects indicates expected production costs (i.e., operating expenses or OPEX) near $4,000/metric ton of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) and reported internal rates of return suggest this production cost target is economically feasible with estimated prices of ≥$11,000/mt LCE. Many techniques and process strategies have been proposed to extract lithium directly from geothermal and other brines, and these can be generally categorized into adsorption, ion exchange, and solvent extraction techniques. Of these technologies, the ones currently advancing to pilot- and near-commercial-scale demonstrations involve adsorption and ion exchange techniques.
Aluminum Can Replace Copper
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.