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Life Cycle Assessment and criticality of raw materials: relationship and potential synergies

Abstract: 
In 2010 European Commission listed 14 raw materials that are subjected to relatively higher risk of supply disruption, defined critical raw materials (CRM). Life cycle assessment (LCA) is increasingly adopted for the appraisal of products, as the methodology accounts for environmental impacts of resource use. Depletion, scarcity and criticality of raw materials are key issues under discussion both in the LCA community and in the wider resource debate. One main issue is if criticality should be part of the impact category “resource depletion” and of an area of protection “natural resources”; how to use results of LCA for comparing CRMs or for identifying a potential substitute material; whether socio-economic implications should be part of the LCA; if current LCA indicators for resources provide governments and business with the most appropriate information for decision support. The present study is based on the results of 3 initiatives developed by the Joint research Centre of the EC: (1) LC-indicators project, providing an overview of the impact associated with the resource use in EU, based on account of material flows in the EU economy in a LC perspective (http://lct.jrc.ec.europa.eu/assessment/assessment/publications#indicators). (2) Ecodesign project focusing on the assessment of the impact and benefit associated with strategies to reduce resource use, e.g. via improvement of reuse and recycling (http://lct.jrc.ec.europa.eu/assessment/projects). (3) Results of a recent workshop (http://lct.jrc.ec.europa.eu/assessment/ResourceSecurity-SecuritySupply) on a methodological framework for sustainability assessment referring to security of supply and scarcity of raw materials. The aims of the present study are related to the evaluation of the potential relationship between LCA and CRM appraisal in order to identify major gaps in knowledge and potential synergies. In particular, the study aims at assessing: coverage of CRM in life cycle inventories and life cycle impact assessment methods; environmental profiles of CRMs with focus on ecotoxicity and human toxicity.