Life cycle assessment (LCA) provides an internationally standardised framework for estimating the environmental impacts associated with products or services (International Organisation for Standardisation, 2006). A particular strength of LCA is the ability to consider indirect impacts that occur at different stages of a product’s life (eg raw material acquisition, manufacture, use, disposal or recycling) and through its supply chain (Figure 1). A wide variety of impact categories are able to be considered by LCA, such as the potential contribution to global warming, ozone depletion, marine eco-toxicity or freshwater eutrophication.
CSIRO has a long history of using LCA to compare the environmental impacts associated with alternative mining, mineral processing and metal production technologies (Haque and Norgate, 2014; Norgate and Haque, 2012, 2013). These ‘mine-to-metal’ assessments have primarily focused upon estimating embodied energy and greenhouse gas impacts associated with these production processes; however, more recently there has been a refocus to also consider consumptive water-use impacts in more detail (Northey et al, 2014).
Northey, S A, Haque, N and Mudd, G, 2016. Water-related data requirements for improved life cycle assessment of mining, mineral processing and tailings management, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference, pp 16–18 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).