Smith, Kate; Pell, Robert; Yan, Xiaoyu; Wall, Frances
The Horizon 2020 funded GREENPEG project is using life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify impacts at the exploration and pre-mine development stages for pegmatite exploration in Europe. LCA has been applied in the raw materials sector by various industry associations who have carried out LCA to produce average impacts for their commodities, including cobalt, copper and nickel, and it is increasingly becoming an important tool for mining companies. There has however been limited research and development for LCA approaches in the exploration phase of raw material projects and exploration is commonly considered to be outside the system boundary of mining or mineral LCAs. Many of the raw materials for green energy production, such as high purity quartz, silicon metal, lithium, rare earth elements, beryllium, tantalum, ceramic feldspar and caesium, can be sourced from a rock type known as pegmatite. The most sought-after varieties of pegmatites are relatively common in Europe. The GREENPEG project will develop and test a set of high-level exploration technologies and algorithms to be integrated and up-scaled into flexible, ready-to-use toolsets for the identification of buried pegmatite ores. Validation of the new approach will be carried out in industry-led trials at demonstration sites in Norway, Ireland and Austria, with further studies on applications in Portugal and Spain. As well as the technical development and assessment of these technologies and algorithms, a key goal of GREENPEG is to minimise the environmental, social and the negative safety impact of these developments. Life cycle assessment (LCA) will be conducted to compare and quantify the environmental impacts of the GREENPEG exploration techniques and to consider how best to predict and mitigate the impacts during the exploration and development phase of mining projects. Here we present the plans and initial stages of this research, with case studies from the project to date.