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Potential of life cycle assessment for supporting the management of critical raw materials

Resource security is a policy concern which has been recently addressed in several initiatives of the European Commission. Based on supply risk and economic importance, a list of Critical Raw Materials (CRM) has been identified for the European economy, in order to prioritize policy actions. Resource use has been the object of the sustainability science from its dawn. Current sustainability assessment methodologies focus on accounting resource flows (e.g. Material Flow Analysis) or on scarcity issues (e.g. in Life Cycle Assessment, LCA). Factors that could constrain the access to resources are usually overlooked. The paper illustrates how resources are currently addressed in the sustainability assessment methodologies, and how CRMs are identified. It explores the potential of LCA in providing information on CRMs at different levels: considering the flows of CRMs in supply chains at inventory level, including criticality criteria (e.g. supply risk) in the impact assessment, and analysing the flows of CRMs at macro-economic scale within the framework of Life Cycle Indicators. The research gaps and the open issues regarding the assessment of resources in LCA are highlighted.