How tocritically assessnickel carbon footprint data

By Dr Mark Mistry, Senior Manager, LCA & Sustainability, the Nickel Institute

Eight tips on what to consider when assessing nickel carbon footprint data.

Knowing the carbon footprint of companies and their products is essential for informed decision-making. This information arms individuals, organisations and governments with the information they need to take action to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

Carbon footprint: models or hard data?

Carbon footprint information is especially valuable in critical value chains for the green energy transition, where such data is requested for raw materials, as well as the downstream production processes.

Carbon footprint data plays a critical role when assessing a specific product throughout its life cycle. While industry average data is found in databases, company-specific carbon footprint data for nickel products are generally not publicly available. Therefore, data consultancies are extending the scope of their existing economic models, and are now including carbon footprint data.

The Nickel Institute has assessed some of these tools in depth. In general, we believe that such models provide value as they demonstrate the wide carbon footprint range of nickel products. But the data they contain does need to be assessed carefully.

Here are our top tips on what you should consider when assessing carbon footprint information.

1. USE HARD DATA AND NOT MODELLED DATA

Life cycle data will soon decide on market access for certain regions, markets or value chains. It is therefore critical that such data passes a rigorous procedure and uses globally agreed protocols. ISO standards are the internationally accepted scientific tools to measure the carbon footprint of products such as nickel, and rules have been defined for certain products like electric vehicle batteries. Other approaches, such as using modelled data, deviate from this rigorous process and are not accepted.

2. ENSURE HIGH-QUALITY data

Models tend to be based on various data sources. Besides publicly available data from company reports, estimates and models are used to fill data gaps. This is especially true in sensitive areas, such as the consumption of fuel or emissions. The data quality of models based on estimates differs significantly from the compilation of carbon footprint data as part of the ISO protocol data collection, where companies provide hard data as a basis for the calculations.

3. ENSURE THAT ALL GREENHOUSE GASES ARE COVERED

The carbon footprint models show carbon dioxide as the most relevant greenhouse gas. But according to the ISO protocol, there is a wide range of other climate‑relevant gases that also need to be accounted for, such as methane. The data collection conducted by the Nickel Institute includes all relevant greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming potential. Therefore, the carbon footprint in our case is expressed as ‘carbon dioxide equivalents’.

4. USE AGREED METHODS

ISO 14040 series standards define in detail the methods to be applied. Metals and mining-specific methods were published in 2015, aligning the approaches applied in carbon footprint calculations. The methods applied in carbon models do not follow the same rigorous scientific process, and are simplified calculations that would not pass a critical review according to the ISO standard.

5. COVER ALL BY-PRODUCTS

Allocation of impacts to by-products is a critical aspect where specific rules have been defined. In many of the carbon models we assessed, economic allocation is done for the occurring metallic by-products. This deviates from agreed principles in the metals and mining industry. Moreover, nonmetallic by-products (e.g., ammonium sulphate, sulphuric acid or steam) are often not included.

6. COVER ALL ONSITE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

For an ISO-compliant calculation of the carbon footprint of nickel, companies need to provide relevant input and output data for all processes for a specific reference year. Companies report the exact consumption of fuels in their production processes (e.g., diesel, gas or oil), the use of coal, as well as process chemicals that lead to greenhouse gas emissions. The data is focused on the specific production process only. Such data is confidential in nature, as it allows production costs to be calculated. Therefore, the data is usually not made publicly available.

Carbon models use similar data if and where publicly available – e.g., in certain jurisdictions or through regulatory reporting obligations. Given the confidential nature and limited availability of such data, the models rely on assumptions and estimates of direct emissions on site (Scope 1 emissions).

7. MODEL ELECTRICITY USE PROPERLY

Electricity is a common energy source notably in ore beneficiation and refining, but also in primary extraction. Depending on the specific situation of a company, electricity might be produced on site, provided from a power plant nearby, supplied through a power purchase agreement from a producer in the same grid or simply come from the national/regional electricity grid. Specific rules are applied to include the carbon footprint of power generation. Carbon footprint models often use the national grid mix, as the information on the specific company situation and its electricity supply is often not known or is confidential.

8. INCLUDE CARBON FOOTPRINT OF SUBSTANCES AND PROCESS CHEMICALS USED

Many substances or articles used and consumed during the process come with a carbon footprint. Examples are tyres for mining trucks; steel balls used in ore beneficiation; or sulphur used as a leaching agent in primary extraction, as well as any other process chemicals used in the production process. The relevant ISO protocol requires the inclusion of the carbon footprint of those substances, articles and process chemicals. According to the Nickel Institute’s life cycle data, these can account for 25 per cent of the total carbon footprint of nickel production; however, the carbon footprint models we investigated miss those Scope 3 upstream emissions, either partly or completely.

The Nickel Institute supports nickel producers in collecting carbon footprint data. It coordinates the collection and update of ISO-compliant carbon footprint data for its member companies, as requested by customers and regulators, on a regular basis. Membership of the Nickel Institute is open to companies that mine, concentrate, smelt or refine nickel, and who place nickel product on the market. 

For more information, contact communications@nickelinstitute.org.

Dr Mark Mistry specialises in regulatory developments likely to impact the nickel industry, and contributes to the academic and scientific debate on life cycle assessment, and the benefits of using and recycling nickel. He also contributes to the development of global sustainability standards.

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