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The economic resource scarcity potential (ESP) for evaluating resource use based on life cycle assessment

Abstract

Purpose

In life cycle assessment (LCA), resource availability is currently evaluated by means of models based on depletion time, surplus energy, etc. Economic aspects influencing the security of supply and affecting availability of resources for human use are neglected. The aim of this work is the development of a new model for the assessment of resource provision capability from an economic angle, complementing existing LCA models. The inclusion of criteria affecting the economic system enables an identification of potential supply risks associated with resource use. In step with actual practice, such an assessment provides added value compared to conventional (environmental) resource assessment within LCA. Analysis of resource availability including economic information is of major importance to sustain industrial production.

Methods

New impact categories and characterization models are developed for the assessment of economic resource availability based on existing LCA methodology and terminology. A single score result can be calculated providing information about the economic resource scarcity potential (ESP) of different resources. Based on a life cycle perspective, the supply risk associated with resource use can be assessed, and bottlenecks within the supply chain can be identified. The analysis can be conducted in connection with existing LCA procedures and in line with current resource assessment practice and facilitates easy implementation on an organizational level.

Results and discussion

A portfolio of 17 metals is assessed based on different impact categories. Different impact factors are calculated, enabling identification of high-risk metals. Furthermore, a comparison of ESP and abiotic depletion potential (ADP) is conducted. Availability of resources differs significantly when economic aspects are taken into account in addition to geologic availability. Resources assumed uncritical based on ADP results, such as rare earths, turn out to be associated with high supply risks.

Conclusions

The model developed in this work allows for a more realistic assessment of resource availability beyond geologic finiteness. The new impact categories provide organizations with a practical measure to identify supply risks associated with resources. The assessment delivers a basis for developing appropriate mitigation measures and for increasing resilience towards supply disruptions. By including an economic dimension into resource availability assessment, a contribution towards life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) is achieved.

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Correspondence to Laura Schneider.

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Responsible editor: Adisa Azapagic

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Schneider, L., Berger, M., Schüler-Hainsch, E. et al. The economic resource scarcity potential (ESP) for evaluating resource use based on life cycle assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19, 601–610 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-013-0666-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-013-0666-1

Keywords

  • Economic criteria
  • LCA
  • LCSA
  • Resource availability
  • Scarcity
  • Supply risk