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Why we should account for the dissipation of mineral resources in LCA

Published on August 25, 2022

Once extracted from the ground, mineral resources can be dissipated in different life cycle stages,from the extraction of the raw materials to the recycling of products (most of them obsolete). The dissipation of resources may be considered as the negation of circularity since it represents the losses of resources for current and future generations. Increasing amounts of incentives exist to close resource cycles to improve resource efficiency and reach a more circular economy.

The currently used and recommended LCIA methods apply the concept of depletion to assess the availability of mineral resources in the economy. These methods do not reflect the real consumption of resources, which occurs through the dissipation of extracted resources. Indeed, dissipation plays a predominant role in reducing the accessibility of resources, thereby reducing the economic value obtained through their transformation in value chains, and their use value in various applications. In this light, the European Commission is considering proposing new dissipation-oriented methods in their future recommendations for the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF). In recent years, efforts have been conducted in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) community to improve the consideration of dissipation by modifying Life Cycle Inventories and developing new impact assessment methodologies.

WeLOOP is happy to announce that it recently recruited Alexandre Charpentier Poncelet, who completed his Ph.D. in the CyVi Group in University of Bordeaux. During his Ph.D., he developed a new Life Cycle Impact Assessment methodology to account for the the dissipation of mineral resources. Ce projet de doctorat a été réalisé sous la direction de Guido Sonnemann, sous la supervision de Philippe Loubet au Groupe CyVi, Bertrand Laratte aux Arts et Métiers ParisTech, Jacques Villeneuve, et Stéphanie Muller au BRGM, et avec l’étroite collaboration de Antoine Beylot (BRGM) et Christoph Helbig (Université de Bayreuth).

Alexandre published a few scientific articles on considering mineral resources in LCA during his thesis. Regarding mineral resources in general , a first article published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling, investigated the multiple impact pathways relating mineral resource consumption to the area of protection (AOP) Natural Resources. It proposed a linkage between human interventions and the AOP based on different cultural perspectives.

Regarding the dissipation of mineral resources a short perspective paper proposed using dynamic material flow analysis (MFA) to assess the dissipation of abiotic resources in LCA. The framework was operationalized into actual life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods for 18 metals with a defined methodology in a second article entitled “Life cycle impact assessment methods for estimating the impacts of dissipative flows of metals”, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. These two LCIA methods measure the Average Dissipation Rates (ADR) and the Lost of Potential Service Time (LPST) due to the global dissipation of metals.

A third article provided a data set and model allowing for evaluation of the losses and lifetimes of 61 metals in the economy using a dynamic MFA approach. The article, titled "Losses and lifetimes of metals in the economy", is published in Nature Sustainability and can be accessed online here. In addition, the dataset and Python code can be accessed here.

Based on these dynamic MFA results, a fourth article, “Midpoint and endpoint characterization factors for mineral resource dissipation: methods and application to 6,000 data sets“ published in the International Journal of LCA, extended the ADR and LPST methods to 61 metals and proposed endpoint characterization factors based on the market price of metals.

Read the article here.

Moreover, the methods were applied to 6,000 data sets to evaluate the potential LCIA results expected from using these methods and compare them to those calculated with the Abiotic Depletion Potential (ADP) and ReCiPe 2016 methods.