Incorporating Stakeholder Perspectives in Industrial Ecology: A Justice-Oriented Analysis of the Lithium-ion Battery Value Chain

Electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) play a central role in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The resulting demand for LIBs will require a significant ramp-up in the extraction and refinement of raw materials such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel, which are energy-intensive to mine and impact the local environment and population in the producing regions 3–6. To create a sustainable transportation future, it is essential to minimize adverse impacts and reduce reliance on raw materials through reuse and recycling. In this dissertation, I will analyze the supply chain and recycling of LIBs using a mixed-methods approach that integrates qualitative research and life cycle assessment. Chapters 1 and 2 focus on sustainable production, using Lithium Valley in California as a case study to situate the impacts of lithium extraction in the local context and create an environmental justice-oriented research agenda. Chapter 3 uses semi-structured interviews to better understand the pathways retired batteries may follow a tend-of-life, informing policy recommendations and research that will support a robust reuse and recycling system. This research responds to identified gaps within the field of LCA while contributing a more nuanced, accurate understanding of the LIB value chain.

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