The calm before the storm? The making of a lithium frontier in transitioning Portugal

Luís Silva, Siddharth Sareen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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A nation undergoing accelerating energy transitions with ambitious climate targets discovers lithium. In recent years, Portugal has made headlines inter alia for running on renewable electricity for over a month, setting world records at solar auctions, closing its last two coal-fired power plants, and investing majorly in green hydrogen for regional public transport fleets. Lithium extraction for battery manufacture can give it leverage in a sector where it has lagged: manufacturing for energy transitions. Bureaucratic machinery has begun whirring in this direction. Yet, extraction carries risks of environmental destruction, community displacement, and populist backlash. Hence, mapping extraction sites has evoked public opposition and triggered debate. Drawing on civil society publications, policy papers and reports, media coverage, field observations, and interviews with social movement representatives, we interrogate the emergence of a lithium frontier in this greening country. We analyse the human geography and social anthropology of mapped extraction sites, to discuss what social movements have emerged and how they are reflected in official political frames. We do not take a position based on technical assessment, but rather analyse available facts as energy social scientists familiar with the sociotechnical geographies
of the Portuguese energy system. We conceptually engage literature on the making of resource frontiers and moments of transition, to foreground the sort of meaning being made and performed in this rapidly unfolding national low-carbon energy future. While unpacking exploration and licensing processes reveals
tensions with social justice issues, how hybrid governance navigates these issues will define emergent extractive proclivities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101308
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalThe Extractive Industries and Society
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Lithium
  • Extractivism
  • Green transitions
  • Social movements
  • Resource frontier


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