Electrification of Utility Tractors at Maritime Container Ports; The Social Implications of Mineral Mining in the Electric Vehicle Battery Industry: A Tesla Case Study

Cha, Matthew, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Lambert, James, EN-SIE, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, University of Virginia

Deemed the future of the automotive industry by many, the electric vehicle has experienced a significant increase in relevance, market share, and overall production in the last two decades. While the technology does present clear environmental advantages over its predecessor, gas-powered vehicles, it also presents a new set of challenges across multiple industries that must be addressed and planned for if it is to become the automotive standard. The technical report in this thesis portfolio addresses issues surrounding capacity planning for electric vehicles in an industrial setting like a maritime container port, while the STS research paper in this portfolio addresses glaring issues in EV industry giant Tesla’s supply chain.
The technical report in this portfolio focuses on maritime container ports, which invest in the electrification of vehicles and facilities to address environmental energy and efficiency concerns. There is urgency to ensure that capital investments are consistent with the concepts of operations for future charging networks and electric vehicles. Experiments with simulation models are widely used to predict and avoid disruption and surprises, including from supply chains, grid outages, workforce behaviors, demand surges, and environmental protections. The technical report describes a mathematical simulation used to explore the integration of electric vehicles in the operations of a maritime container port. The simulation enables the comparison of alternative configurations and capacities of chargers on several time horizons. A focus of the simulation is optimizing key performance metrics for port managers, users, and customers. The metrics include carbon emissions, resource utilization, costs, and energy usage. The scale of the simulation includes four performance metrics, thirty utility tractor rigs, three to fifteen chargers, ten to twenty drivers, five container stacks, and five rail sidings. The simulation undertakes multiple use cases to conduct sensitivity analysis of key parameters and assumptions made in electrification planning. The use cases are important to guide a three-billion-dollar plan for strategic investment by the port. The results suggest how particular business decisions of the port are sensitive to the trajectory of investment in advanced technologies and their configurations.
The STS research paper in this portfolio centers around EV industry titan Tesla, who has experienced unprecedented growth in the last ten years. This growth resulted in a recent influx of demand for Tesla vehicles and their lithium-ion batteries. Current mineral sourcing methods to produce Tesla’s batteries are ridden with cruel working conditions, as well as a high incidence of child labor. The research paper aims to tackle the question: How will the rising demand for electric vehicles impact Tesla’s EV battery production, specifically its indirect use of inhumane labor practices like child labor? The paper answers this question by examining the problem through an STS perspective, specifically through the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) framework. Examining mineral mining and its role in Tesla’s battery production through this framework generates a new perspective on how specific social groups influence the development of Tesla’s battery technology. The paper uses the framework to discuss the theme of corporate social responsibility and Tesla’s previous responses to the child labor epidemic in their supply chain. The framework is also utilized to discuss the environmental factors associated with mineral mining, as well as analyze Tesla’s shifting identity during the diversification of the modern EV market. These insights highlight key issues in Tesla’s core values and practices that must be rectified before EV demand surpasses gas-powered vehicles and becomes the automotive industry standard.
Electric vehicles have vast and expansive implementations, as evidenced through the varied applications of the technical report and research paper in this thesis portfolio. This wide array of uses for electric vehicles in turn requires considerable planning, flexibility, and the adaptation of decades-long practices across countless industries and fields. It is crucial that these changes are not overlooked and are thoroughly planned for, or else what were once sound, validated, and valuable enterprises could be harmed or destroyed. Whether it is personal automobiles, shipping container transports, public transportation, or any other use case, it is imperative that proper planning, projections, and analysis be conducted before completing the transition to full electrification.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Electric Vehicles, Mineral Mining, Simulation

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering

Technical Advisor: James Lambert

STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook

Technical Team Members: Bethany Bazemore, Zachary Goss, Henry Haywood

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