A platinum life cycle assessment : potential benefits to Anglo Platinum
There has been an increased awareness of the inter-dependence between man and the environment since the 1960’s. Environmental awareness has evolved from representing fairly radical views opposing all development, to a current emphasis on sustainable development between development and the environment. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is defined as the identification and quantification of the environmental impacts of a product, process or service during the entire life cycle being studied. The life cycle starts at the extraction of raw materials and the production of energy used to create the product through the use and final disposal of the product. LCA therefore considers the production, use and disposal of a product, which constitutes the life cycle of the product. LCA can be combined with methodologies that study other parameters such as costs in order to optimise the benefits from LCA. It is suggested that cost implications of processes to reduce environmental impacts should be included in a methodology used for a Platinum LCA. A comment that is consistently raised in the case studies is that the minerals industry regards LCA as an effective tool to determine the impacts of the industry, however extraction & beneficiation of minerals are often grouped together, with accurate data not being available, and databases either not available or not updated. The case studies indicated several benefits from the various LCA’s conducted. A Platinum LCA should clearly define and group the environmental impacts being studied into categories such as greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, acidification, and resource consumption. A Platinum LCA will be resource- and time intensive due to the large scale of the processes involved. It is suggested that a Platinum LCA firstly focuses on the production phase, i.e. cradle-to-gate, with potential future work done on the use and end-of-life stages. It is suggested that individual facility-based LCA’s for AMPLATS and other platinum producers are conducted in order to get a true reflection of the environmental burden of each company, and then selectively share technological improvements to reduce the environmental burden without disclosing sensitive information. The benefit of LCA in the case of platinum will be optimised if it can be used to make business decisions, together with consideration of financial and production benefits in addition to anticipated environmental benefits of alterations to processes. It is essential that LCA is seen as a business tool that will assist the company to make informed business decisions about process improvements, as well as new projects and design of new facilities. LCA on its own will not determine which product or process is the most cost effective or works best. The information developed in a LCA study should be used as one component of a more comprehensive decision making process assessing the trade-offs with cost and performance. The results from a LCA could be used to make informed decisions about optimisation between costs and reduced environmental impacts.