Fieldwork in Chile #4 | What does lithium mining mean for nature?
The energy transition requires large quantities of raw materials. However, clean energy technologies require far more metals and minerals than working with fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Because the demand for “cleaner” raw materials increases, social and ecological tensions arise where these raw materials are extracted. This is also the case with lithium, a light metal used to produce batteries for electric vehicles and energy networks. The demand for lithium is expected to continue to grow over the coming decades.
The Mining for the Energy Transition research project is interdisciplinary and examines the economic, ecological, technological, social, political and commercial aspects of the energy system, energy transition and sustainable goals. The research project is funded by ENLENS (Energy Transition Through the Prism of Sustainable Development Goals), one of UvA’s interfaculty research priorities.
This can be explained by the geological configuration right next to the Andes and the underground and aerial water flows associated with it. All of these types of local observations are extremely valuable because it is difficult for us to use satellite images at home behind our computer to know what is really visible on a 30 by 30 meter pixel.
Another challenge for our research was to obtain independent data. The Chilean government has a rather passive role in environmental monitoring and leaves that to the mining companies themselves. In our search for additional data from external parties, we found, among others, the Universidad Católica del Norte, a local university that also conducts research in the Salar de Atacama.
After email contact, it turned out they were very interested in our research, and we visited their campus in Antofagasta, the regional capital, a four-hour drive through a very dry desert. Here we presented our research and met the geology department. This meeting aimed not only to obtain data, but also to strengthen ties with another university for possible collaboration in the future.
Now the fun part of our research is almost over. Soon in Amsterdam the hours behind the computer will begin and we will be able to put into practice our acquired knowledge.
Read next week episode 5, the last of our Fieldwork in Chile series. You can read episode 3 here.
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