Life Cycle Inventories of Metals and Methodological Aspects of Inventorying Material Resources in ecoinvent (7 pp)



Goal, Scope and Background

The ecoinvent database provides harmonised generic life cycle inventories for metal production and processing. They can be used as background data for different LCA applications. The goal of this paper is to provide an overview of the metals inventoried in ecoinvent. Beside, some methodological background information is given. The focus lies on a new methodology developed to inventorying joint resources. The implementation is shown in a case study of the production of primary copper on a global average. The respective process is assessed with Eco-indicator 99 (H,A) to identify dominant impacts within the production chain.


In ecoinvent, a coupled production is inventoried in multi output unit processes. For database calculation, an allocation by economic revenue is applied. Elementary flows for resources, especially joint resources, include information on type and quality of the resources.

Results and Conclusion

With the presented method, the extraction of resources can be valuated based on the cost of restoration or the change in the future impact due to the extraction of a specific resource. The case study indicates, for copper / molybdenum production, that the mineral extraction is of minor importance compared to the metallurgical step according to the LCIA results. Air emissions of heavy metals are identified as main impacts. Also, the resource depletion shows a notable impact. The environmental impacts of metals from sulphidic ores, however, are underestimated by neglecting emissions from tailings for lack of reliable data.

Recommendation and Perspective

Impact assessment methods will have to be updated to account for different grades of ore. The ecoinvent database should be enlarged by more inventories of technically important metals and alloys, e.g. by gold, silver, solders, etc. for the electronics industry and by specific steel and aluminium alloys. Reliable composition data of sulphidic tailings and transfer coefficients for their disposal considering Acidic Rock Drainage (ARD) are to be developed as well.

resource depletion copper couple production ecoinvent LCI model life cycle inventory metal production metals Switzerland tailings 


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Copyright information

© Ecomed 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hans-Jörg Althaus, Msc EMPA Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Technology and Society Laboratory Überlandstrasse 129 8600 Dübendorf SCHWEIZ
  2. 2.Mischa Classen, Msc EMPA Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research Überlandstrasse 129 8600 Dübendorf SCHWEIZ

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