Life cycle management is the generic label for how materials, products and infrastructure can best be managed from an environmental perspective through a complete product cycle.
For metals such as nickel it is necessary to extend this perspective as the impacts associated with initial production can be amortized over time, depending on how many times the nickel is recovered at the end of one product cycle (e.g., a spent nickel-based catalyst) and used as input into stainless steel to start a different product cycle. Thus the “life cycle” of nickel is different and usually much longer than the life cycle of the products into which it is incorporated.
For nickel, LCM covers the impacts associated with the nickel mining industry (mining, processing, refining), nickel-using basic industries (production of nickel chemicals, stainless steels, alloys), and nickel-using manufacturing industries (heavy engineering, civil engineering and construction, batteries and many others), and the end-of-life management of nickel-containing products and structures (the collection and recycling of nickel for return to use).
Life cycle management is broken down into discreet activities, some of which have become highly formalized in recent decades within the ISO14000 series that include standards for the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology.
While LCA lacks the economic and social aspects required for a full sustainability profile, it is the essential and best known component of sustainability.
The nickel industry does not conduct LCAs. As a primary industry, its contribution is the provision – and improvement over time – of Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) data on nickel products from the mine to the point at which the nickel changes ownership as it moves along the value chain. That nickel LCI data is then available to be incorporated into LCAs of products for which nickel is only one component.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
LCA is a tool for quantitative and scientific analysis of the environmental impacts of products and their associated industrial systems.
There is an immense amount of technical literature available on LCA. For further information, consult the International Standards Organization for its ISO14040 series of standards on LCA or, for an academic view, the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Life Cycle Inventory (LCI)
LCI is the assemblage of data on all relevant inputs and outputs/discharges per unit of production of a product. It is the first and essential step upon which all subsequent LCA work, including the calculation of impacts on environments and human health, is based.
Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA)
LCIA is that part of a product LCA that uses models and formulae that have broad international acceptance to extrapolate the LCI data to arrive at calculations of impacts on the quality and health of environments (air, water, soils) and humans.
More on the management of the life cycle of nickel: