Strategies for reducing the carbon footprint of copper: New technologies, more recycling or demand management?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Minerals Engineering, 2007, 20 (9 SPEC. ISS.), pp. 842 - 853
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Existing approaches to reducing environmental impacts along the metal production and consumption chain are focused largely at the plant scale for primary production, rather than considering the whole metal cycle. As such, many opportunities for systemic improvements are overlooked. This paper develops an approach to designing preferred futures for entire metal cycles that deliver reduced carbon footprints. Dynamic material flow models in Visual Basic® are used to provide life-cycle-impact-assessment indicators, which help identify key intervention points along the metal cycle. This analysis also identifies which actors or agents along the value chain are responsible for, or can influence, behaviour which affects environmental performance. With this information, it is possible to evaluate different scenarios for transition paths to achieve reduced impact. These scenarios consider combinations of new technology, increased metal recycling and demand management strategies. A case study for the copper cycle in the USA shows that to meet a CO2 reduction target of 60% by 2050, innovative technologies for primary processing of mined ore will play a limited role, due to their increasing impacts in the future associated with mining ever lower ore grades. To compensate for this whilst meeting demand projections, recycling of old scrap would be required to increase from 18% to 80%, requiring extensive collaboration between primary and secondary producers. An alternate scenario which focuses on demand reduction for copper by 1% per year, meets the CO2 target whilst only requiring an increase in the recycling rate from 18% to 36%. Together, these suggest that there is merit in examining the 'metal-in-use' stage of the metal value chain more closely in order to achieve targeted reductions in CO2. The approach also highlights the inherent trade-offs between different aspects of environmental performance which are required when pursuing CO2 reduction targets. © 2007.
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