MineLoop - integrating high-resolution circular economy metrics within life cycle assessment software to drive resource circulation and reduce criticality of key technology metals.

Lead Participant: MINVIRO LTD


The transition to a low-carbon economy is well underway and accelerating. However, low-emission energy and transportation systems, such as Electric Vehicles (EVs) or solar panels, are more mineral intensive compared to fossil fuel equivalents. Many mineral inputs are irreplaceable in manufacture, or have high-risk of supply disruption, thus known as 'Critical Raw Materials' (CRMs). Their demand is set to increase exponentially (540% for lithium, 292% for cobalt by 2030 \[IEA,2020\]). The UK imports nearly 100% of CRMs thus circular strategies are an ideal solution to decrease material criticality; over 1/3rd of UK domestic rare earth element demand could be addressed by 2035 by recycling material waste \[Green Alliance,2018\].

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) provides a method to systematically measure impacts of supply chains, (including 'trade-off' impacts associated with new recycling plants) defining those with the 'lowest environmental impact'. It can also be used to identify environmental 'hot-spots' to optimise site design.

Minviro Ltd is a UK SME pioneering world-leading LCA tools to enable the mineral value-chain to radically improve their environmental credentials. A spin-out from the world-class Camborne School of Mines, Minviro comprises mineralogists, mining-engineers and LCA specialists. It is currently working with some of the largest diversified mining companies in the world and downstream end-users to ensure raw materials used for the low-carbon economy are sourced at minimal environmental cost.

Minviro is currently developing two LCA software products (for use by non LCA experts) to support:

* better design of mines/processing facilities/refineries (cradle-to-refinery-gate) (MineLCA).
* downstream users in battery manufacturing (cradle-to-factory-gate) to select materials with minimal environmental impacts (MineBIT).

By building on pioneering research by the Met4Tech Centre from University of Exeter Circular Economy Group (part of the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research Programme 'NICER'), Minviro will be able to integrate circular metrics to its current LCA digital solutions. This software add-on 'MineLoop' will sit within its existing LCA tools, helping drive circularity at every part of the supply-chain (to lower the carbon footprint of each process step). Integrating MineLoop will enable Minviro to make transparent the environmental impact of CRMs from any Primary _and_ Secondary source (including recyclates). This project translates amazing British science into a world-beating approach to impact quantification that will drive the decarbonisation of the tech-metals sector.

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