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Cecilie Larsen

Cecilie Larsen
Global Development and Planning
Fakultet for samfunnsvitenskap
15. desember 2021

Lithium Extraction in South America and the Green Energy Transition in Europe

This fall, I have started working with Morgan Storm Scoville-Simonds on a research project which focuses on how the extraction of lithium in South America impacts the political, economic, and ecological relations between the European Union and South American lithium producers.

As the world is scrambling to find solutions to the climate crisis, and the push for the green energy transition has become increasingly important, this research project focuses on how this energy transition can be fairer. For many countries in the Global North, a transition into the new, green energy era means that we must rely on supplies of lithium and other raw materials, often extracted in the Global South. For the region in the south of Norway where the University of Agder is located, this is a highly relevant topic, as the Morrow battery factory in Arendal is now under construction.

Lithium-ion batteries – which are found in everything from smartphones, to laptops, to electric cars – require very specific raw materials. The troubling case of cobalt from the Congo has widely mediatized. However, many other raw materials are also problematic. Lithium, for example, is mainly found in some areas in South America. This means that the lithium resources that are extracted from the salt flats in, for example, Chile will benefit the electric car owners in Europe. This reality goes directly into the problem of the research project, as the project investigates the inequalities between the region that produces the lithium, and the region that ‘consumes’ the lithium. With this in mind, this project asks what role lithium plays in the transition into new, green energy, and how it can contribute to a sustainable and fair energy transition.

I find this project and its purpose very compelling, as I can relate it to discussions I have had with friends and family about how we view electric cars in general, and in particular how it impacts the climate locally and globally. I think many of us in Norway, in particular, where electric cars have become the new norm for personal mobility, view electric cars as green because they do not utilize petrol or diesel for propulsion. However, this is only part of the equation, as we then fail to adequately address the impact extraction of minerals that go into the battery production, has on local environments, people and political relations between the producers and consumers of said minerals.

My current role in the project is to conduct a literature review on recent and relevant articles. This task builds on the experience and coursework in my master’s program in Global Development and Planning at the Faculty of Social Sciences, and I can utilize skills acquired throughout my studies. I am very thankful for the opportunity to be part of this interesting, timely, and relevant project.