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Environmental impacts of key metals' supply and low‐carbon technologies are likely to decrease in the future

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  • Carina Harpprecht
  • Lauran van Oers
  • Stephen A. Northey
  • Yongxiang Yang
  • Bernhard Steubing

Abstract

The environmental benefits of low‐carbon technologies, such as photovoltaic modules, have been under debate because their large‐scale deployment will require a drastic increase in metal production. This is of concern because higher metal demand may induce ore grade decline and can thereby further intensify the environmental footprint of metal supply. To account for this interlinkage known as the “energy‐resource nexus”, energy and metal supply scenarios need to be assessed in conjunction. We investigate the trends of future impacts of metal supplies and low‐carbon technologies, considering both metal and electricity supply scenarios. We develop metal supply scenarios for copper, nickel, zinc, and lead, extending previous work. Our scenarios consider developments such as ore grade decline, energy‐efficiency improvements, and secondary production shares. We also include two future electricity supply scenarios from the IMAGE model using a recently published methodology. Both scenarios are incorporated into the background database of ecoinvent to realize an integrated modeling approach, that is, future metal supply chains make use of future electricity and vice versa. We find that impacts of the modeled metal supplies and low‐carbon technologies may decrease in the future. Key drivers for impact reductions are the electricity transition and increasing secondary production shares. Considering both metal and electricity scenarios has proven valuable because they drive impact reductions in different categories, namely human toxicity (up to −43%) and climate change (up to −63%), respectively. Thus, compensating for lower ore grades and reducing impacts beyond climate change requires both greener electricity and also sustainable metal supply. This article met the requirements for a Gold‐Gold JIE data openness badge described at http://jie.click/badges

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  • Carina Harpprecht & Lauran van Oers & Stephen A. Northey & Yongxiang Yang & Bernhard Steubing, 2021. "Environmental impacts of key metals' supply and low‐carbon technologies are likely to decrease in the future," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 25(6), pages 1543-1559, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:inecol:v:25:y:2021:i:6:p:1543-1559
    DOI: 10.1111/jiec.13181
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Sacchi, R. & Terlouw, T. & Siala, K. & Dirnaichner, A. & Bauer, C. & Cox, B. & Mutel, C. & Daioglou, V. & Luderer, G., 2022. "PRospective EnvironMental Impact asSEment (premise): A streamlined approach to producing databases for prospective life cycle assessment using integrated assessment models," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 160(C).
    2. Xin Lu & Hajime Ohno & Osamu Takeda & Takahiro Miki & Yasushi Sasaki & Hongmin Zhu & Tetsuya Nagasaka, 2022. "Toward an efficient recycling system: Evaluating recyclability of end‐of‐life stainless steels by considering elements distribution during a remelting process," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 26(5), pages 1701-1713, October.
    3. Xiaoyang Zhong & Mingming Hu & Sebastiaan Deetman & Bernhard Steubing & Hai Xiang Lin & Glenn Aguilar Hernandez & Carina Harpprecht & Chunbo Zhang & Arnold Tukker & Paul Behrens, 2021. "Global greenhouse gas emissions from residential and commercial building materials and mitigation strategies to 2060," Nature Communications, Nature, vol. 12(1), pages 1-10, December.
    4. Marc van der Meide & Carina Harpprecht & Stephen Northey & Yongxiang Yang & Bernhard Steubing, 2022. "Effects of the energy transition on environmental impacts of cobalt supply: A prospective life cycle assessment study on future supply of cobalt," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 26(5), pages 1631-1645, October.

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