Metals and Life Cycle Assessments

The nickel industry routinely conducts life cycle assessment studies. Aim is to monitor and document certain potential
environmental impacts of its products and to show improvements made over time. These studies are conducted using the international standards ISO 14040 (2006) and ISO 14044 (2006).

There are several generic aspects in the ISO standard framework which were further substantiated to the specific requirements and characteristics of the metals industry and are summarized in a peer reviewed article of the metals industry ( Santero, N., Hendry, J. Harmonization of LCA methodologies for the metal and mining industry. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21, 1543–1553 (2016). The article was supported by in total 14 metals and mining industry associations and are the basis for life cycle assessments conducted in this industry. It ensures coherence and consistency of the work done.

Different methodological aspects are covered in this article, such as by-product allocation, and impact assessment categories. For the life cycle impact assessment categories, it is recommended that life cycle assessments (LCAs) on metal and mining products should report those impact categories which are well established and have a high level of consensus. These are global warming potential (GWP), acidification potential (AP), eutrophication potential (EP), photochemical oxidant creation potential (POCP), and ozone depletion potential (ODP). Some additional parameters are recommended to be reported, namely net water consumption, primary energy demand and waste generation.

Certain other impact categories are not recommended to be reported for metals, notably all toxicity impact categories and resource depletion. The ILCD Handbook labels those as level II or level III, meaning that they are “in need of some improvements” or “to be applied with caution”. The characterization of the impacts based on the inventory does not adequately support decision making.

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