Special Issue "Consideration of Abiotic Natural Resources in Life Cycle Assessments"

A special issue of Resources (ISSN 2079-9276).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 December 2015).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Mario Schmidt
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute for Industrial Ecology, Pforzheim University, Tiefenbronner Str. 65, D- 75175 Pforzheim, Germany
Interests: Resource efficiency; Resource depletion; Life Cycle Assessment; Material Flow Cost Accounting; Circular Economy
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The conservation of natural resources and improvement of resource efficiency have become internationally important goals in the past decade. Industry too is readily taking up the topic of resource efficiency, as there are both environmental and economic reasons in favour of this. For example, many companies would like to know what materials and pre-products are likely to encounter supply shortages in future, or become the subject of public discussion on the grounds of environmental or social impacts.

However, realising this aim in concrete terms is difficult. What resources are in fact involved? Only the “critical raw materials”? What is the significance of resources such as “land” or “water” alongside the abiotic mineral raw materials? What about ecosystem services? What indicators are used to measure the use of resources or resource efficiency? What assumptions are connected with the selection of indicators? For example, are regional shifts or the criticality of the resources taken into account?

One important instrument for analysing product and service systems is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in accordance with ISO 14040 and 14044. It covers all the important energy and material flows occurring during the life cycle of a product. This means that we generally also trace back what raw materials have been used for a product or a service. This is necessary in order to consider all the major environmental pollutions occurring. That is why an LCA is always also an analysis of the use of resources. But how detailed is the examination of the raw materials? Are those raw materials that currently play a major role in resource policy included too, in other words, the “critical metals”? Are there any valid datasets for LCAs on the extraction of unusual raw materials, such as dysprosium, tantalum or indium?

For some time now, discussion has been ongoing in the LCA community about whether the use of resources should also be considered as a separate area of protection, such as is already the case for environmental, health or social safeguard subjects. This is then also linked to the question of what indicators can serve for an aggregation and evaluation of the individual resource consumption rates. Here for example there are sum indicators such as the Total Material Requirement (TMR) or the Direct Material Input (DMI), as well as academically sophisticated approaches, such as exergy, which is automatically connected with resource extraction.

The planned Special Issues of Resources is, therefore, examining the interface between life-cycle-thinking and resource management. We are looking in particular for articles that deal

  • explicitly with considering the use of natural resources in specific LCAs,
  • with data from mining extraction or recycling of critical raw materials,
  • with the selection of suitable indicators to map and aggregate the use of resources, or
  • with the formulation of areas of protection for natural raw materials or their embedding in a system of areas of protection.

Further suggestions are welcome.

Prof. Dr. Mario Schmidt
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • abiotic natural resources
  • resource scarcity
  • mining
  • critical raw materials
  • safeguard subjects
  • dissipation of resources
  • recycling innovation

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Scarcity and Environmental Impact of Mineral Resources—An Old and Never-Ending Discussion
Resources 2019, 8(1), 2; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources8010002 - 21 Dec 2018
Cited by 2
Abstract
A historical overview shows that mankind has feared the scarcity of mineral resources, especially metals, for many centuries. In the first half of the 20th century, this discussion was marked by the great military demand for raw materials, followed by the growing world [...] Read more.
A historical overview shows that mankind has feared the scarcity of mineral resources, especially metals, for many centuries. In the first half of the 20th century, this discussion was marked by the great military demand for raw materials, followed by the growing world population, increasing consumption and environmental awareness. From then on, there was less talk of regional shortages, but more discussion of a global scarcity or even a drying up of raw material sources worldwide. Although these forecasts are still controversially discussed today, the assessment of resource depletion has become an integral element of Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) or Life Cycle Impact Assessments (LCIA) of product systems. A number of methodological approaches are available for this purpose, which are presented and applied in a series of articles as part of a special issue of “Resources”. The fundamental question is also addressed, namely to what extent the assessment of resource depletion in the context of an environmental study such as LCA is appropriate. Full article
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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Dematerialization—A Disputable Strategy for Resource Conservation Put under Scrutiny
Resources 2017, 6(4), 68; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources6040068 - 04 Dec 2017
Cited by 3
Abstract
Dematerialization is a paradigm in resource conservation strategies. Material use should be reduced so that resource consumption as a whole can be lowered. The benefit for humankind should be completely decoupled from the natural expenditure by a definite factor X. Instinctively, this approach [...] Read more.
Dematerialization is a paradigm in resource conservation strategies. Material use should be reduced so that resource consumption as a whole can be lowered. The benefit for humankind should be completely decoupled from the natural expenditure by a definite factor X. Instinctively, this approach is convincing, because our entire value-added chain is based on material transformation. Targets for mass-based indicators are found within the context of justification for ecological carrying capacity and intergenerational fairness, taking into account the economic and socio-political expectation of raw material scarcity. However, in light of further development of material flow indicators and the related dematerialization targets, the question arises as to what they actually stand for and what significance they have for resource conservation. Can it be assumed that pressure on the environment will decline steadily if the use of materials is reduced, whether for an economy or at the level of individual products or processes? The present narrative review paper has discussed this issue and takes into account the authors’ experience of the extended political and scientific discourse on dematerialization in Germany and Europe. As a result, a high “resource relevance” cannot be inferred from high physical material inputs at any of the levels considered. It has been shown that establishing mass-based indicators as control and target variables is questionable and that dematerialization exclusively based on such indicators without mapping other resources should be critically examined. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Exergy as a Measure of Resource Use in Life Cycle Assessment and Other Sustainability Assessment Tools
Resources 2016, 5(3), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5030023 - 29 Jun 2016
Cited by 11
Abstract
A thermodynamic approach based on exergy use has been suggested as a measure for the use of resources in Life Cycle Assessment and other sustainability assessment methods. It is a relevant approach since it can capture energy resources, as well as metal ores [...] Read more.
A thermodynamic approach based on exergy use has been suggested as a measure for the use of resources in Life Cycle Assessment and other sustainability assessment methods. It is a relevant approach since it can capture energy resources, as well as metal ores and other materials that have a chemical exergy expressed in the same units. The aim of this paper is to illustrate the use of the thermodynamic approach in case studies and to compare the results with other approaches, and thus contribute to the discussion of how to measure resource use. The two case studies are the recycling of ferrous waste and the production and use of a laptop. The results show that the different methods produce strikingly different results when applied to case studies, which indicates the need to further discuss methods for assessing resource use. The study also demonstrates the feasibility of the thermodynamic approach. It identifies the importance of both energy resources, as well as metals. We argue that the thermodynamic approach is developed from a solid scientific basis and produces results that are relevant for decision-making. The exergy approach captures most resources that are considered important by other methods. Furthermore, the composition of the ores is shown to have an influence on the results. The thermodynamic approach could also be further developed for assessing a broader range of biotic and abiotic resources, including land and water. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Mineral Resources: Reserves, Peak Production and the Future
Resources 2016, 5(1), 14; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010014 - 29 Feb 2016
Cited by 41
Abstract
The adequacy of mineral resources in light of population growth and rising standards of living has been a concern since the time of Malthus (1798), but many studies erroneously forecast impending peak production or exhaustion because they confuse reserves with “all there is”. [...] Read more.
The adequacy of mineral resources in light of population growth and rising standards of living has been a concern since the time of Malthus (1798), but many studies erroneously forecast impending peak production or exhaustion because they confuse reserves with “all there is”. Reserves are formally defined as a subset of resources, and even current and potential resources are only a small subset of “all there is”. Peak production or exhaustion cannot be modeled accurately from reserves. Using copper as an example, identified resources are twice as large as the amount projected to be needed through 2050. Estimates of yet-to-be discovered copper resources are up to 40-times more than currently-identified resources, amounts that could last for many centuries. Thus, forecasts of imminent peak production due to resource exhaustion in the next 20–30 years are not valid. Short-term supply problems may arise, however, and supply-chain disruptions are possible at any time due to natural disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes) or political complications. Needed to resolve these problems are education and exploration technology development, access to prospective terrain, better recycling and better accounting of externalities associated with production (pollution, loss of ecosystem services and water and energy use). Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Evaluation of Abiotic Resource LCIA Methods
Resources 2016, 5(1), 13; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010013 - 29 Feb 2016
Cited by 13
Abstract
In a life cycle assessment (LCA), the impacts on resources are evaluated at the area of protection (AoP) with the same name, through life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods. There are different LCIA methods available in literature that assesses abiotic resources, and the [...] Read more.
In a life cycle assessment (LCA), the impacts on resources are evaluated at the area of protection (AoP) with the same name, through life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods. There are different LCIA methods available in literature that assesses abiotic resources, and the goal of this study was to propose recommendations for that impact category. We evaluated 19 different LCIA methods, through two criteria (scientific robustness and scope), divided into three assessment levels, i.e., resource accounting methods (RAM), midpoint, and endpoint. In order to support the assessment, we applied some LCIA methods to a case study of ethylene production. For RAM, the most suitable LCIA method was CEENE (Cumulative Exergy Extraction from the Natural Environment) (but SED (Solar Energy Demand) and ICEC (Industrial Cumulative Exergy Consumption)/ECEC (Ecological Cumulative Exergy Consumption) may also be recommended), while the midpoint level was ADP (Abiotic Depletion Potential), and the endpoint level was both the Recipe Endpoint and EPS2000 (Environmental Priority Strategies). We could notice that the assessment for the AoP Resources is not yet well established in the LCA community, since new LCIA methods (with different approaches) and assessment frameworks are showing up, and this trend may continue in the future. Full article
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Open AccessCommunication
Abiotic Raw-Materials in Life Cycle Impact Assessments: An Emerging Consensus across Disciplines
Resources 2016, 5(1), 12; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010012 - 26 Feb 2016
Cited by 17
Abstract
This paper captures some of the emerging consensus points that came out of the workshop “Mineral Resources in Life Cycle Impact Assessment: Mapping the path forward”, held at the Natural History Museum London on 14 October 2015: that current practices rely in many [...] Read more.
This paper captures some of the emerging consensus points that came out of the workshop “Mineral Resources in Life Cycle Impact Assessment: Mapping the path forward”, held at the Natural History Museum London on 14 October 2015: that current practices rely in many instances on obsolete data, often confuse resource depletion with impacts on resource availability, which can therefore provide inconsistent decision support and lead to misguided claims about environmental performance. Participants agreed it would be helpful to clarify which models estimate depletion and which estimate availability, so that results can be correctly reported in the most appropriate framework. Most participants suggested that resource availability will be more meaningfully addressed within a comprehensive Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment framework rather than limited to an environmental Life Cycle Assessment or Footprint. Presentations from each of the authors are available for download [1]. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Dynamic Ecocentric Assessment Combining Emergy and Data Envelopment Analysis: Application to Wind Farms
Resources 2016, 5(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010008 - 29 Jan 2016
Cited by 9
Abstract
Most of current life-cycle approaches show an anthropocentric standpoint for the evaluation of human-dominated activities. However, this perspective is insufficient when it comes to assessing the contribution of natural resources to production processes. In this respect, emergy analysis evaluates human-driven systems from a [...] Read more.
Most of current life-cycle approaches show an anthropocentric standpoint for the evaluation of human-dominated activities. However, this perspective is insufficient when it comes to assessing the contribution of natural resources to production processes. In this respect, emergy analysis evaluates human-driven systems from a donor-side perspective, accounting for the environmental effort performed to make the resources available. This article presents a novel methodological framework, which combines emergy analysis and dynamic Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) for the ecocentric assessment of multiple resembling entities over an extended period of time. The use of this approach is shown through a case study of wind energy farms. Furthermore, the results obtained are compared with those of previous studies from two different angles. On the one hand, a comparison with results from anthropocentric approaches (combined life cycle assessment and DEA) is drawn. On the other hand, results from similar ecocentric approaches, but without a dynamic model, are also subject to comparison. The combined use of emergy analysis and dynamic DEA is found to be a valid methodological framework for the computation of resource efficiency and the valuation of ecosystem services. It complements traditional anthropocentric assessments while appropriately including relevant time effects. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Resource Efficiency Assessment—Comparing a Plug-In Hybrid with a Conventional Combustion Engine
Resources 2016, 5(1), 5; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010005 - 21 Jan 2016
Cited by 13
Abstract
The strong economic growth in recent years has led to an intensive use of natural resources, which causes environmental stress as well as restrictions on the availability of resources. Therefore, a more efficient use of resources is necessary as an important contribution to [...] Read more.
The strong economic growth in recent years has led to an intensive use of natural resources, which causes environmental stress as well as restrictions on the availability of resources. Therefore, a more efficient use of resources is necessary as an important contribution to sustainable development. The ESSENZ method presented in this article comprehensively assesses a product’s resource efficiency by going beyond existing approaches and considering the pollution of the environment as well as the physical and socio-economic availability of resources. This paper contains a short description of the ESSENZ methodology as well as a case study of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W 205)—comparing the conventional C 250 (petrol engine) with the C 350 e Plug-In Hybrid (electric motor and petrol engine). By applying the ESSENZ method it can be shown that the use of more and different materials for the Plug-In-Hybrid influences the dimensions physical and socio-economic availability significantly. However, for environmental impacts, especially climate change and summer smog, clear advantages of the C 350 e occur due to lower demand of fossil energy carriers. As shown within the case study, the when applying the ESSENZ method a comprehensive evaluation of the used materials and fossil energy carriers can be achieved. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Surplus Cost Potential as a Life Cycle Impact Indicator for Metal Extraction
Resources 2016, 5(1), 2; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010002 - 06 Jan 2016
Cited by 18
Abstract
In the evaluation of product life cycles, methods to assess the increase in scarcity of resources are still under development. Indicators that can express the importance of an increase in scarcity of metals extracted include surplus ore produced, surplus energy required, and surplus [...] Read more.
In the evaluation of product life cycles, methods to assess the increase in scarcity of resources are still under development. Indicators that can express the importance of an increase in scarcity of metals extracted include surplus ore produced, surplus energy required, and surplus costs in the mining and the milling stage. Particularly the quantification of surplus costs per unit of metal extracted as an indicator is still in an early stage of development. Here, we developed a method that quantifies the surplus cost potential of mining and milling activities per unit of metal extracted, fully accounting for mine-specific differences in costs. The surplus cost potential indicator is calculated as the average cost increase resulting from all future metal extractions, as quantified via cumulative cost-tonnage relationships. We tested the calculation procedure with 12 metals and platinum-group metals as a separate group. We found that the surplus costs range six orders of magnitude between the metals included, i.e., between $0.01–$0.02 (iron) and $13,533–$17,098 (rhodium) USD (year 2013) per kilogram of metal extracted. The choice of the reserve estimate (reserves vs. ultimate recoverable resource) influenced the surplus costs only to a limited extent, i.e., between a factor of 0.7 and 3.2 for the metals included. Our results provide a good basis to regularly include surplus cost estimates as resource scarcity indicator in life cycle assessment. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Physical Assessment of the Mineral Capital of a Nation: The Case of an Importing and an Exporting Country
Resources 2015, 4(4), 857-870; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources4040857 - 16 Nov 2015
Cited by 8
Abstract
Intensified mineral consumption and reserve depletion means that it is becoming increasingly important for policymakers to account for and manage national mineral capital. Exergy replacement costs (ERC), an indicator based on the second law of thermodynamics, provides a physical value of mineral loss. [...] Read more.
Intensified mineral consumption and reserve depletion means that it is becoming increasingly important for policymakers to account for and manage national mineral capital. Exergy replacement costs (ERC), an indicator based on the second law of thermodynamics, provides a physical value of mineral loss. When only a unit mass analysis is used, the role of scarcer minerals, such as gold, is obscured. ERC can identify those minerals which are most critical and more difficult to re-concentrate. This paper compares the mineral depletion of that of Colombia and Spain for 2011, both in mass and ERC terms. The Colombian mineral balance for that year is predominately based on fossil fuel extraction and exports, whilst Spain produced industrial minerals but relied heavily upon metals and fossil fuel imports. Using exergy replacement costs, an economic analysis was carried out to determine the impact of mineral extraction, in monetary terms, should the cost of re-concentrating such minerals be taken into account. In 2011, the GDP derived from the extractive sectors of either country did not compensate the mineral resource loss, meaning that mineral patrimony is not being properly evaluated. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview
The Abiotic Depletion Potential: Background, Updates, and Future
Resources 2016, 5(1), 16; https://doi.org/10.3390/resources5010016 - 02 Mar 2016
Cited by 42
Abstract
Depletion of abiotic resources is a much disputed impact category in life cycle assessment (LCA). The reason is that the problem can be defined in different ways. Furthermore, within a specified problem definition, many choices can still be made regarding which parameters to [...] Read more.
Depletion of abiotic resources is a much disputed impact category in life cycle assessment (LCA). The reason is that the problem can be defined in different ways. Furthermore, within a specified problem definition, many choices can still be made regarding which parameters to include in the characterization model and which data to use. This article gives an overview of the problem definition and the choices that have been made when defining the abiotic depletion potentials (ADPs) for a characterization model for abiotic resource depletion in LCA. Updates of the ADPs since 2002 are also briefly discussed. Finally, some possible new developments of the impact category of abiotic resource depletion are suggested, such as redefining the depletion problem as a dilution problem. This means taking the reserves in the environment and the economy into account in the reserve parameter and using leakage from the economy, instead of extraction rate, as a dilution parameter. Full article
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