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Monique Curet
By Monique Curet May 11, 2022

Photo does not show lithium mine — it’s a copper mine

If Your Time is short

The photo shows a copper mine in Chile, not a mine for lithium. 

Seeking to simplify the complicated issue of  clean energy, social media posts have proliferated claiming to show pictures of the destruction left by lithium mining for hybrid and electric-vehicle batteries.

The problem is that many of these posts have been wrong about what the images show. And a new one from a March 24 post follows that pattern with a photo it says shows "one of Tesla's lithium supply mines where entire mountains are eliminated."

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The post includes two images, of an oil well and a mine. The caption says the oil well is where "100% organic material is pumped out of the ground, taking up around 500 to 1000 square feet," contrasting that with the mine, which it says "came at a cost of entire mountains, thousands of square miles of land and billions of gallons of oil and fuel."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

(Screengrab from Facebook)
But the post gets it wrong, because the photo does not show a lithium mine — it’s a copper mine in Chile. The post, like others before it, attempts to compare the environmental impact of fossil fuels against hybrid or electric vehicles.
Lithium typically is mined in South America and Australia. Earlier this year, Tesla signed a 5-year agreement with an Australian mine, which will supply the carmaker beginning in 2024, reported.
Lithium "can be extracted in three ways: from hard rock, which is common in Australia; from sedimentary rock, a process currently under development in the U.S. Southwest; and through the evaporation of brines found beneath salt flats on South America’s Atacama Plateau," according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit group. The last method uses large amounts of groundwater, meaning that manufacturing electric vehicles is about 50% more water intensive than traditional internal combustion engines, the New York Times reported
Extracting lithium from brine is more environmentally friendly than open pit mines.
We rate the claim that a photo shows "one of Tesla's lithium supply mines where entire mountains are eliminated" False.  

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Photo does not show lithium mine — it’s a copper mine

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