Environmental Assessment Of Base Metal Processing: A Nickel Refining Case Study
Organization: The Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Jan 1, 2000
Mining and metallurgical processing companies that have adopted the principles of good environmental management often find it difficult to carry out an environmental assessment that yields meaningful opportunities for improved performance. This topic was investigated by means of a case study of a South African Base Metal Refinery (BMR) producing primarily nickel. A process-based Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was carried out on the refining process, with the environmental impacts related to the production of reagents and utilities forming part of the assessment. The lifecycle inventory (LCI) was based on plant operating data spanning 31 months of production, from which a baseline environmental profile could be generated and interpreted to indicate the main sources of potential environmental impacts. Consequently, opportunities for improved environmental performance could be identified from the LCA model, which expressly related potential environ-mental liability to specific sub-processes in the assessed industrial operation. The on-site steam plant was found to be the primary source of potential environmental impacts in most of the impact categories considered. In closing, the paper discusses some of the limitations encountered in use of the LCA method. Keywords: life cycle assessment; LCA; life cycle inventory; LCI; base metal refinery; improved environmental performance; environ-mental management systems; nickel refining.