In the case of metals and metal products the life cycle begins with ore mining. Processes such as crushing, milling, flotation, electrolysis, smelting and transport to further processes etc. are part of the production phase. The processes and techniques and with it the effort for its extraction and production differ depending on the metal and metal concentration in ores. For example the concentration of precious metals such as silver, gold, platinum, palladium etc. in ores are lower than of other metals (e.g. copper, zinc etc.), therefore the extraction effort for the precious metals are much higher with respect to the extracted metal weight.
After material production and manufacturing of the finished product, the use phase is the next step in the life cycle. The environmental impacts vary depending on the product and application. If the metal is applied for example in a car production, the fuel consumption related to the product weight has to be considered, whereas a steel beam has no contribution to the environmental impacts in this phase.
The life cycle of a metal product ends with the disposal, which is a very important phase, particularly in the metal branch. Small metal parts can end up together with other materials at garbage incineration. However the metal -containing parts are fed normally in recycling loops for further use.
By applying LCA, ecological aspects can be integrated in decision processes. Instead of the analysis of basic materials, the result can also be assessed by breaking it down in assemblies and processes, use and end-of-life (e.g. GWP by mining, grinding, flotation etc.). This method enables the identification of ecologically weak points in the life cycle or in the considered life cycle phase. In this way the ecological potentials can be identified. Furthermore, the conclusions from LCA can be considered in the development and design stage of processes (Design for Environment – DfE), which often allows expensive End-of-Pipe solutions to be avoided.
The GaBi group (in German “Ganzheitliche Bilanzierung” means Life Cycle Engineering (LCE)) of the LBP (“Lehrstuhl für Bauphysik” means Chair of Building Physics) has a long-term experience in the field of Life Cycle Assessment. In the course of multiple projects a considerable material and process database was established. The database is used worldwide in companies and research institutes together with the Software GaBi 6, which was also developed at the Department Life Cycle Engineering.
The database includes not only metal products und their processes data, but also the data of non-metal raw materials, such as plastics, chemicals, building material etc., as well as energy carriers and energy supply.
The comprehensive and consistently designed database, linked with funded know-how of the LBP’s working group and the powerful software tool, enables an efficient decision support based on LCA.