SUPRIM Newsletter – Special Edition

Sustainable management of primary raw materials is now more than ever on the European agenda, thanks to concerns about responsible resourcing of the metals and minerals we need and an increasing awareness of potential impacts related to mining operations.

In order to better understand the sustainability of natural resource use, a life cycle approach should be applied. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has significantly developed over the last two decades, and Life Cycle thinking has become an essential basis for industry in a wide variety of sectors to quantify environmental performance.

Life Cycle Assessment currently seeks to quantify the environmental impact of production and consumption chains on three so-called areas of protection: natural ecosystems, human health and natural resources. Scientifically, the two former areas are already reasonably developed with well-established cause and effect chains and implementation of Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methods in the market.

However, the Natural Resources area of protection and the impact of human activities upon it are for the moment poorly developed in LCA. One consequence of this is that value-chains are currently confronted with a lack of well-developed impact models to assess the environmental impacts of using natural resources; and with non-representative and out-dated data inventories for mining operations.

SUPRIM objectives

For now, there is no generally or broadly accepted method for assessing potential problems related to the use of natural resources. The purpose of the SUPRIM project is to establish better agreement of the problem definition and to develop a new LCIA method. SUPRIM should lead to the identification of a consistent, empirically verifiable cause-and-effect chain linking flows of natural resources to sustainability impacts.

Along the way, SUPRIM is using new datasets from two real-life copper mines to validate the LCIA method. Today, public inventories of resource and energy flows in mining operations (essential for LCA) are outdated, misused or unavailable. To be able to perform a correct assessment of the environmental impacts and evaluate progress in sustainable primary production over time, these inventories need to be improved. That’s why the second objective of SUPRIM is to develop specific Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) datasets for two study sites in collaboration with Boliden in Sweden and Cobre Las Cruces in Spain.

A better characterisation of raw materials use in life cycle based sustainability assessment is strategically important for the raw material sector, as it brings the assessment of these material flows to a level sufficiently ready and reliable to be implemented in the market – for example to complement Critical Raw Materials lists, Product Environmental Footprints, or Responsible Sourcing schemes.

By collaboration of world-class universities in mining (Lulea University) and sustainability assessment (Ghent University, Leiden University), together with renowned research institutes (Tecnalia), industrial partners (Boliden, Cobre las Cruces) and a prominent sector organisation (Euromines), the profile of the SUPRIM project is guaranteed. In fact, in 2017 & 2018 SUPRIM has already made key contributions to the Global Guidance for Life Cycle Impact Assessment Indicators and Methods of UN Environment’s Life Cycle Initiative. The project partners are therefore convinced of the strategic importance and potential impact of the project.



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