Mineral resources in life cycle impact assessment—part I: a critical review of existing methods

Thomas Sonderegger*, Markus Berger, Rodrigo Alvarenga, Vanessa Bach, Alexander Cimprich, Jo Dewulf, Rolf Frischknecht, Jeroen Guinée, Christoph Helbig, Tom Huppertz, Olivier Jolliet, Masaharu Motoshita, Stephen Northey, Benedetto Rugani, Dieuwertje Schrijvers, Rita Schulze, Guido Sonnemann, Alicia Valero, Bo P. Weidema, Steven B. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The safeguard subject of the Area of Protection “natural Resources,” particularly regarding mineral resources, has long been debated. Consequently, a variety of life cycle impact assessment methods based on different concepts are available. The Life Cycle Initiative, hosted by the UN Environment, established an expert task force on “Mineral Resources” to review existing methods (this article) and provide guidance for application-dependent use of the methods and recommendations for further methodological development (Berger et al. in Int J Life Cycle Assess, 2020). Methods: Starting in 2017, the task force developed a white paper, which served as its main input to a SETAC Pellston Workshop® in June 2018, in which a sub-group of the task force members developed recommendations for assessing impacts of mineral resource use in LCA. This article, based mainly on the white paper and pre-workshop discussions, presents a thorough review of 27 different life cycle impact assessment methods for mineral resource use in the “natural resources” area of protection. The methods are categorized according to their basic impact mechanisms, described and compared, and assessed against a comprehensive set of criteria. Results and discussion: Four method categories have been identified and their underlying concepts are described based on existing literature: depletion methods, future efforts methods, thermodynamic accounting methods, and supply risk methods. While we consider depletion and future efforts methods more “traditional” life cycle impact assessment methods, thermodynamic accounting and supply risk methods are rather providing complementary information. Within each method category, differences between methods are discussed in detail, which allows for further sub-categorization and better understanding of what the methods actually assess. Conclusions: We provide a thorough review of existing life cycle impact assessment methods addressing impacts of mineral resource use, covering a broad overview of basic impact mechanisms to a detailed discussion of method-specific modeling. This supports a better understanding of what the methods actually assess and highlights their strengths and limitations. Building on these insights, Berger et al. (Int J Life Cycle Assess, 2020) provide recommendations for application-dependent use of the methods, along with recommendations for further methodological development.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)784-797
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Life cycle assessment
  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Life Cycle Initiative
  • Method review
  • Mineral resources
  • Raw materials
  • Resource depletion
  • Task force mineral resources


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