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Impact assessment of abiotic resource consumption conceptual considerations

  • Brentrup, Frank1
  • Küsters, Jürgen1
  • Lammel, Joachim1
  • Kuhlmann, Hermann1
  • 1 Hydro Agri, Centre for Plant Nutrition Hanninghof, Hanninghof 35, Dülmen, D-48249, Germany , Dülmen
Published Article
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2002
DOI: 10.1007/BF02978892
Springer Nature


The impact assessment of the consumption of abiotic resources, such as fossil fuels or minerals, is usually part of the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) in LCA studies. The problem with the consumption of such resources is their decreasing availability for future generations. In currently available LCA methods (e.g. Eco-indicator’ 99/Goedkoop and Spriensma 1999, CML/Guinée 2001), the consumption of various abiotic resources is aggregated into one summarizing indicator within the characterization phase of the LCIA. This neglects that many resources are used for different purposes and are not equivalent to each other. Therefore, the depletion of reserves of functionally non-equivalent resources should be treated as separate environmental problems, i.e. as separate impact sub-categories. Consequently, this study proposes assigning the consumption of abiotic resources to separate impact sub-categories and, if possible, integrating them into indicators only according to their primary function (e.g. coal, natural gas, oil → consumption of fossil fuels; phosphate rock → consumption of phosphate). Since this approach has been developed in the context of LCA studies on agricultural production systems, the impact assessment of the consumption of fossil fuels, phosphate rock, potash salt and lime is of particular interest and serves as an example. Following the general LCA framework (Consoli et al. 1993, ISO 1998), a normalization step is proposed separately for each of the subcategories. Finally, specific weighting factors have been calculated for the sub-categories based on the ’distance-to-target’ principle. The weighting step allows for further interpretation and enables the aggregation of the consumption of different abiotic resources to one summarizing indicator, called the Resource Depletion Index (RDI). The proposed method has been applied to a wheat production system in order to illustrate the conceptual considerations and to compare the approach to an established impact assessment method for abiotic resources (CML method, Guinée 2001).

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