Introducing a multi-criteria indicator to better evaluate impacts of rare earth materials production and consumption in life cycle assessment
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is based on the basic principles of sustainable development. LCA method demonstrated its efficiency in providing a systematic environmental assessment approach of a product or a process. The effectiveness and efficiency of these methods lies in the fact that they take into account all life cycle stages of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to end of life treatment (recycling, ...) through an assessment covering different impact categories such as climate change, human health, ecosystems and resources. Existing LCA indicators reflect different issues surrounding resource depletion, creating inconsistency and moreover confusion among LCA practitioners. The evaluation of different life cycle impacts assessment (LCIA) methods done by EC JRC showed that available models did not address the same parameters: short- vs long-term, stock vs backup technology, etc. It also showed that if the correlation between the methods was sufficient for some resources, others such as rare earth elements showed a high level of inconsistency between methods. It was therefore necessary to develop a relevant indicator and harmonized assessment of impacts on resources in LCA. Furthermore, a resource strategy indicator based on the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social) would better address wider challenges and making it a more powerful decision making tool. This study aimed to introduce an indicator for evaluating the strategy implications of metal resources for products and to compare different ways of production resulting from extraction of raw materials or recycling, with a special focus on rare earth materials. The indicator would assess the impacts based on a reserve-resource vision [BGS NERC] and the evolution over time and founded over three parameters: technical feasibility, economic viability and political stability (including social and environmental aspects) in representing countries.