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Accepted Paper:

‘New Oil’ and Circular Tensions: Following the Afterlife of Electric Car Batteries in Norway's Green Mobility Shift  
Michelle Geraerts (University of Amsterdam, Worlds of Lithium ERC)

Paper Short Abstract:

Anthropologically following the afterlife of EV batteries ('the new oil') in Norway, this paper focuses on an industrial area that is known for its ‘clean’ processes and its proximity to a nature reserve. Situating the circular economy shows its embeddedness in messy environments and relations.

Paper Abstract:

Norway, the world’s frontrunner in electric passenger vehicles per capita, is well on its way to phasing out new sales of fossil fuel combustion cars by 2025. In this context, there is a growing need for social scientific reflections on lithium batteries—the central technology driving this ‘green mobility shift’. Anthropologically tracing the afterlife of electric car batteries through Norway led me to a place called Øra. In this industrial area, renowned as the ‘capital of the circular economy’, spent car batteries are prepared for recycling by being shredded into a black mass, a mixture of metals that is both toxic and economically promising. Despite its now circular character, the industrial area has historically threatened the flourishing of surrounding wetlands. In 1979, Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland drew a line on a map of Øra to limit industrial expansion into the adjacent nature reserve. This line materialises today as a hiking path, delineating the realm of economic activity from the ecological diversity of the wetlands. However stable the line appears on the map, a combination of ethnographic and artistic research methods complicates the paradoxical reality of this place and challenges the notion that ‘Nature has her own cycle,’ distinct from that of the circular economy. By engaging with the emic notion of the battery as ‘the new oil,’ this paper demonstrates how it transcends being a mere bounded or isolated techno-economic object, revealing, through its many complex relations, the limits and omissions of dominant imaginaries surrounding the circular economy and energy transition.

Panel P217
Life after oil? Undoing the contradictions of the energy transition [Environmental Anthropology Network (EAN)]
  Session 2 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -