Basic Materials

Environmental Impacts of basic materials

The basic materials sector has a significant to high level impact on several environmental issues due to extraction (mining) and refining phases. The basic materials sector consists of companies involved in the discovery, development and processing of raw materials.

Mining has a large-scale impact on the global environment. It is estimated that direct GHG emissions from mining activities contribute 36% of direct GHG emissions from industry, making mining a significant contributor to climate change. On a local scale, it harms biodiversity and ecosystems, pollutes soil and water, and causes resource depletion.

Like mining, metal refining and transformation also have a significant ecological footprint: it generates more than 4% of world GHG through energy-intensive plants. For instance, producing one ton of pure aluminium consumes more than 15 MWh of electricity. Worldwide, cementitious materials make up more than half of all materials we use and account for approximately 8% of global GHG emissions. Cement production in particular generates 5% of GHG emissions.

In recent decades, stricter environmental regulations have helped to limit these harmful effects. Likewise, companies are now obligated to publicly disclose some data concerning their activities, which encourages more sustainable practices.

The NEC basic materials framework calculates the NEC for metals, metallic ores, other minerals, cement and concrete. This framework does not cover energy-related products which are classed under the Fuel framework and Electricity framework, chemicals, and bio-based resources, which are dealt with in the Food & Beverage Framework, Wood & Paper framework or the Apparel & Textile Framework.


How the NEC measures the impacts
for metals and metallic ores

In brief, the methodology used to calculate the environmental impacts of the metals and metallic ores are based on other frameworks for the final use, on the origin of the metal (recycled or secondary versus extracted or primary) and on climate, biodiversity and water for upstream and midstream impacts.

Environmental Issues of primary metals production

The main issues that are both key for the primary metals production and measurable at company level are:

CLIMATE

the major part of ecological footprint for many metals, measured via kg CO2-equivalent per kg extracted

BIODIVERSITY

measured via terrestrial acidification (using kg SO2 per kg extracted) and aquatic eutrophication (using kg P-equivalent per kg extracted)

WATER

using m3 per kg extracted

These physical units have been converted into economic values to be aggregated and calibrated with the NEC scale using the following prices of externalities derived from Delft University’s Environmental Prices Handbook 2017:
+ Greenhouse gases: 100€ / kg CO2-eq.
+ Terrestrial acidification: 5.4 € / g SO2
+ Aquatic eutrophication: 1.9 € / g P-eq.
+ Water consumption: 7€ / m3

Performance Indicators

The following indicators have been selected to measure the Net Environmental Contribution (NEC) of the metals and metallic ores:
+ Final use: via the NEC of the materials’ end uses (usage matrix of other frameworks’ NECs)
+ Primary incremental NEC: upstream and midstream malus for primary metals production based on the above climate, biodiversity and water performance indicators
+ Secondary incremental NEC: recycling bonus, rewarding the GHG savings generated by the recycling process versus primary metal
+ Recycling rate: end of life recycled material input / primary and secondary inputs

The metals’ NEC default values are most often negative, ranging from -100% for a rare earth such as Scandium, to slightly positive NEC, as for copper and lithium.

Environmental Impacts of Cement and Concrete

Cement, aggregates (gravel, crushed stone, etc.) and admixture materials are combined to make concrete for the construction industry. These processes, including the extraction of natural aggregates and the production of clinker (a setting powder) and cement, cause numerous environmental impacts. The process of cement production is responsible for 90% of the negative environmental effects because it is very energy intensive and consequently generates significant quantities of CO2-equivalent (see chart below).


Other issues such as air and water pollution near quarries, water consumption, biodiversity impacts due to land use are also significant to high impact areas. Additionally, resource depletion linked to construction materials such as sand and gravel is substantial: sand and gravel are among the most consumed non-renewable resources in the world (more than 11 billion metric tons in 2017).

However, the GHG footprint significantly outweighs all other environmental issues for cement and concrete producers, so climate impact is the primary environmental criteria used to analyze these activities. As the effects of cement production both dominate concrete and are embedded in it, the NEC of cement is considered equal to that of concrete: its average default value is -49%.

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