Life Cycle Management: A Critical Platform for Sustainability of Australian Mining
The traditional approach to addressing environmental impact in mining has been environmental social impact assessment (EISA) and risk assessments, exploring potential localised effects and then implementing measures to mitigate or avoid them. However, advances in sustainability science and climate change awareness have shifted the focus to entire value chains from extraction, production, use and recycling in the last two to three decades.
Regulations are being introduced and adopted that support using life cycle assessment (LCA) to produce environmental claims that are not misleading and create transparency in the supply chain. Namely, product-focused schemes such as energy labelling, extended producer responsibility, the EU Green Deal (e.g. the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism 1 and Critical Raw Materials proposal) and the recent EU battery passport legislation.2 Meanwhile, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) "Environmental and Sustainability Claims'' is currently in draft and aims to help businesses comply with the Australian Consumer Law when making environmental claims. The market is in transition, and there is increasing pressure at every stage of the supply chain to quantify, understand and mitigate the carbon footprint and environmental impacts of production, which can be conducted using LCA approaches.
Current Industry Challenges → Different Challenges in Different Markets.
There are different environmental challenges and pressures across the full supply chain, from raw material extraction to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and for companies in different stages of development, from junior miners to major operators. We are amid an energy transition leading to a higher demand for lithium-ion batteries, especially for electric vehicles. Minviro's research with Tesla3,4 shows that most of the climate change impacts of electric vehicles come from the battery raw material supply chains.
The EU Battery Regulations come into place in February 2024. From February 2025, any EV battery sold in the EU must report the climate change impact of producing the battery. LCA is the only methodology recognised in these regulations to account for the total climate change footprint, covering scope 1, scope 2 and upstream scope 3 emissions.
February 2025 feels quite far away, but it can take up to 6 months or more to complete a fully verified LCA, meaning miners, refiners, battery manufacturers, and OEMs must act now to meet these requirements.
A recent study from Accenture found that 59% of institutional investors want miners to aggressively pursue decarbonisation (including scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions) and be market leaders in that effort.5 63% of institutional investors would be willing to divest or avoid investing in mining companies that fail to meet their decarbonisation targets.5 The reward for mining companies to produce raw materials with a low carbon footprint is charging a price premium for their products or, at a minimum, being seen as a preferential supplier.
With the increase in demand for EVs, so comes the demand increase for critical raw materials such as lithium, nickel, graphite, manganese and cobalt.6 Meeting this demand requires both the need for new projects and the scaling up of current operations. The limitations are decreasing ore grades and more complex orebodies, requiring larger quantities of explosives, fuel for haulage, reagents for processing, and water. As a result, larger mining projects are created due to larger mines, processing plants, tailings, and costs. Investors in the (junior) mining industry are considering sustainability, with projects able to prove low environmental impacts with verified quantitative metrics, most specifically climate change, being more competitive to projects that do not consider this.
How can Minviro’s Life Cycle Services Help You?
Minviro specialises in ISO 14040/14044:2006 compliant LCAs in the critical raw material sector, focusing on battery raw materials. With a team built of mining engineers, geologists, chemical engineers and environmental sciences, Minviro can not only conduct the LCA but is also able to provide valuable insights into environmental hotspots of the extraction and production processes, comparisons to current or alternative supply chains and feasible mitigation strategies to support mining companies in reaching their sustainability goals.
Another tool being increasingly used to complement LCA is environmental life cycle costing (LCC). This uses the same framework as LCA but provides an additional perspective to compare environmental impacts and costs. That way, trade-offs between environmental-based improvements can be directly compared against the cost implications. This provides valuable insights into processes, value chain stages, input changes, by-product recovery, treatment systems or energy supply options.
Life Cycle Management as a Critical Platform for Sustainability
Different regulations apply to companies at different stages. For example, OEMs are affected by battery regulations, whilst junior mining companies will be impacted by the new IFRS sustainability disclosures and so forth. At Minviro, it’s important to allow companies we work with to maximise the use of their impact results for marketing campaigns, gaining investment following the relevant sustainability reporting requirements.
LCA, therefore, provides valuable assessments and information for input into other sustainability requirements of organisations. It quantifies aspects such as climate change and water use in a holistic way that other approaches don’t reach.
However, the life cycle approach can function as a stepping stone or platform for many other aspects of sustainability. Minviro’s experts also have experience using the life cycle approach in many areas, including climate change reporting, material flow analysis, industrial symbiosis, etc.
How to reach us?
Minviro has offices in London, UK, Shanghai, China, and Perth, Australia. Reach out via our website or directly contact Phoebe or Steve to find out more about how we can support you with your sustainability journey.
6. Executive summary – The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions – Analysis. IEA https://www.iea.org/reports/the-role-of-critical-minerals-in-clean-energy-transitions/executive-summary.
Want to discuss this further?
On the Blog