How to calculate GHG emissions from nickel production

The Nickel Institute has published specific guidance for nickel producers to help them calculate their greenhouse gas emissions. This guidance takes into account the complexity of nickel production and will contribute to scientifically robust and reliable data that is comparable throughout the entire industry. The author of the Guidelines, Dr. Mark Mistry explains.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the major driver for climate change, the most important challenge facing society globally.

At the Paris Conference of Parties (COP) meeting in 2015, 196 countries agreed on measures to mitigate impacts from the globally observed temperature increase and resulting adverse impacts. The measurement of GHG emissions is therefore an important step in understanding how emissions affect climate change; identifying hot spots where significant GHG emissions occur; measuring efforts in reducing GHG emissions and their contribution to climate change mitigation.


Contribution of metals production and associated mining processes to all GHG emissions globally

Metals production and associated mining processes are estimated to account for 8-10% of all GHG emissions globally. Due to the tonnages produced and energy intensity, carbon steel is the major contributor to metals production GHG emissions, followed by aluminium, which are the both metals with the highest annual metals production. Other metals such as copper, zinc, cobalt and lead play a less significant role.

Thanks to its relatively low production levels, nickel is a much smaller contributor with roughly 0.27%, according to the Nickel Institute’s estimates. Nonetheless the nickel industry is also focused on climate change mitigation measures, and companies are working hard towards reducing their GHG emissions.


Contribution of nickel production to GHG emissions globally

What about Life Cycle Assessments

The most common, globally accepted tool to measure climate change at product level as well as other environmental impacts are environmental life cycle assessments (LCAs), where the carbon footprint is calculated as well as other environmental impacts. However, the existing internationally agreed protocols and standards are generic. They do not take into account the specific complex production processes such as nickel production. Precise guidance is, however, important to ensure that the calculations are scientifically robust and reliable, as well as comparable throughout the entire industry.

To assist, the Nickel Institute has drafted guidance that specifies the principles, requirements and methodologies for quantifying and communicating GHG emissions from refined nickel metal production processes and the associated cradle-to-gate carbon footprints of their products and precursors, such as nickel ores from mining, nickel concentrates from beneficiation and ore preparation, as well as nickel intermediates from primary extraction from both lateritic and sulfidic nickel metal production.

This guidance is based on the ISO 14044 standard on environmental management - life cycle assessments – requirements and guidelines.

While ISO 14044 is generic in nature, the Nickel Institute’s guidance shows the specific approaches applied to the production of refined nickel (traded as nickel metal class 1 with a nickel content of >99.8% ). It also is aligned with the GHG protocol Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard. 

The application of this guidance allows producers of nickel ores and concentrates, nickel intermediates and nickel metal producers as well as their customers and other stakeholders to calculate the climate change impact of class 1 nickel metal production, which is referred to as the carbon footprint of class 1 nickel metal.