Bringing Regional Verification to the Life Cycle Assessment of Raw Materials
The demand for raw materials to sustain the growth required in the renewable energy sector has never been as strong as it is now. Coupled with this, the demands on those companies extracting, processing and refining these raw materials to verify their impacts on the environment has never been more scrutinised. Embedded in the growing international trade narrative for ESG accountability with ambitious targets set towards net zero, modern raw material companies are required to document, explain and verify their operational outputs in almost every public-facing sustainability report.
These companies however often lack the knowledge or context for effective management of environmental risks – ESG planning is no longer sufficient, and data-driven, thorough and quantitative analysis is often required to be built into project development long before ore is extracted or metals are refined. European legislators in particular are set to introduce stringent regulations for battery manufacturing in particular, necessitating accurate environmental impact data for all raw material streams – nickel, lithium, graphite, manganese, cobalt and more. This pressure works back upstream to the producers to improve sustainability to ensure downstream purchase of their products.
To accommodate this growing demand for verification and requirement for independent oversight is a growing number of specialised businesses that work with raw material operations to understand opportunities for improved sustainability within their product life cycles; and to highlight areas that could benefit from best practice.
One such company is Minviro.
Working with multiple extraction companies and downstream OEMs manufacturing technology using raw materials, Minviro helps assess, quantify and mitigate their social and physical impacts on their surrounding communities using life cycle assessment (LCA). With a team of geologists, academics, engineers and skilled technologists, the UK based company has enjoyed exponential growth since its inception in 2019, providing consultancy and software support to businesses in need of environmental insights.
LCA is a globally-recognised, ISO-compliant and robust methodology for quantifying environmental impacts. It essentially takes all material and energy inputs associated with a given product or process, plus any direct emissions to land, water or air, and translates these into cumulative direct and embodied impacts across a range of impact categories, including climate change potential (i.e. CO2 impact), water use, land transformation, acidification and more. Minviro have created a tailored raw material background database and methodological approach applicable to mining and metals within the LCA framework to provide direct environmental guidance to companies in the sector. LCA is inherently process-, technology- and region-specific, the latter of which affects the type of electricity and supply of reagents modelled for a project, which can have highly variable impact contributions.
Water and land use impact categories in particular are extremely geographically-sensitive and often public LCA models do not accurately capture the inputs necessary for a high quality LCA.
Coupling this with the increasing demand for their services, enhanced levels of verification requirements, costs and the inability to constantly visit extraction sites, Minviro explored the use of satellite data imagery to solve many of the challenges of addressing these regionally-bound insights.
Partnering with the Satellite Applications Catapult’s Space Commercialisation Engine, Minviro has embraced their business support programme to explore how by using this technology they could gain more subjective, more specific data; and in real-time. Minviro argues that embedding satellite data within their service offering is a natural business progression; improving their own systems and costs, ability to scale and which will ultimately add greater value for their clients. Water and land use impacts will be precisely modelled with respect the water scarcity in a given region, the areal extent of a project plot, the local vegetation in the area and more.
Dr Jordan Lindsay, the Sustainability Coordinator for Minviro says the following about Minviro’s product offering and their collaboration with the Space Commercialisation Engine. “With ever-growing scrutiny on raw material projects and downstream manufacturers to acknowledge and plan for their environmental impacts, potentially even before they secure permitting. At Minviro, we strive for high quality in everything we do, and with life cycle assessment, this often means making modelling as specific, regionally-accurate and granular as possible. When it comes to water and land use impacts, the size and the location of a given project being analysed using LCA is crucial to the final calculation. This is technically difficult for our LCA practitioners (and our software users) to conduct and existing methodologies give way to subjectivity. Through this collaboration with SCE, we have applied some complex background work with earth observation data to make our water and land use impacts infinitely more informative, precise and representative; so companies know exactly how their surroundings are impacted by raw material extraction and processing. The collaboration has been invaluable to our software’s growth and targets a niche pain point in our workflow. We have loved working with the SCE team and are grateful for their hard work!!”
The Space Commercialisation Engine
The Space Commercialisation Engine (SCE) is a unique business support programme to assist entrepreneurs and companies to bring their Earth observation (EO) ideas to market, through rapid prototype development. The SCE is a national programme situated at Space Park Leicester and delivered by the Satellite Applications Catapult.