Assessing a product’s life cycle means that companies must look at the entire ‘life’ of a product, from beginning to end (and sometimes back to the beginning again), including: raw material extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal. This holistic approach is complex as there are many stages that need to be measured and parameters that need to be taken into account.
The development of life cycle analysis tools for steel products has made it possible for us to analyse and understand points in the product life cycle where the environmental impact is most critical. Understanding this enables project teams to develop effective solutions or alternatives that will minimise the negative effect. Many products have already been studied, such as road safety barriers, radiator panels, windmill towers and various components of a car, for our S-in motion project.
Since 2005, ArcelorMittal has developed a world-renowned expertise in life cycle analysis. This expertise was rewarded at the 2011 WorldSteel Association congress where ArcelorMittal won a Steelie Award in the ‘leadership in life cycle analysis’ category.
Our dedicated R&D team specialises in life cycle analysis and its applications, such as carbon footprint and environmental product declarations. By assessing the impact of our steel product throughout its life cycle, which includes the production, use and end-of-life phases, the team is able to verify whether new solutions proposed by research and development can reduce harmful environmental impacts and demonstrate better performance than other materials such as concrete, plastics or Aluminium.
Our R&D team has also contributed to the improvement of methods for assessing the sustainability of their solutions.
This has resulted in two outcomes:
- The capitalisation and critical analysis of environmental data, known as the ‘life cycle inventory’, for steel and other materials.
- The development of a strong international network of experts - the SOVAMAT initiative (SOcial VAlue of MATerials) - which also involves the concrete, wood, glass and plastic industries.
The SOVAMAT panel of academics, whose disciplines range from economics to energy sciences, meets once a year to present progress made on life cycle analysis, material flow analysis, social and economic indicators, prospective analysis, and tools to assist in selecting sustainable solutions (see www.sovamat.org).
The panel’s work offers research teams a valuable service by creating practical analysis tools in order to incorporate these environmental considerations at the earliest stages of research projects, in an ‘eco-design’ approach – something that is already being done in the construction sector.
The importance of life cycle analysis in construction
In the space of a few years, studies of the environmental footprint in the construction sector have become indispensable and life cycle analysis (LCA) has become the appropriate measurement tool.
Within this context, the environment, life-cycle and materials (ELM) team, based in Maizières (France) and part of the global R&D team, has made its expertise available to ArcelorMittal’s construction teams and along with architects and consulting engineers have developed new computer tools that can be used to measure steel’s environmental performance throughout its life cycle.
There are three main reasons for undertaking LCA in the construction sector:
- Firstly, there is a regulatory incentive. Today, many countries have their own regulations. In France, for example, by the end of the year, a decree will be issued to regulate all public communication about the environmental performance of construction products. In addition, a new European standard (EN15804) was published in 2012 in order to harmonise the methods used to calculate data on which the environmental performance of construction products is based. Although an amendment is being prepared, implementation has already begun. The ELM team participated actively with the ArcelorMittal working group in the preparation of this new standard, in particular promoting the consideration of recycling at the end of life.
- The second is certification. It is a form of recognition for builders and future occupiers. Undertaking a LCA provides additional points to obtain certification. The most widespread certifications on a global basis are BREEAM and LEED. These certifications are awarded by independent bodies and apply to the entire life cycle of the building including its environment, for example nearby transport.
- And finally until now, regulations were focused on the ‘use’ phase. However, it is important for ArcelorMittal to demonstrate steel solutions' competitive advantage throughout the full life cycle, including the constituent materials and their destination at the end of the building’s life.
The contribution of the environment, life cycle and materials (ELM) team
Because of its expertise, the ELM team is in daily contact with ArcelorMittal’s units worldwide. It aims to satisfy market requirements by preparing environmental declaration sheets, but its fundamental contribution lies in eco-design consultancy. Through the development of two environmental footprint study software packages, our engineers are able to define which materials will have the least impact on the environment in terms of CO2 emissions, energy and water consumption and waste generation.
AMeco software relates solely to the structure of the buildings, i.e. the floors, columns and beams. Developed by the ELM team, the Esch research centre and CTICM (French Steel Construction Industry Technical Centre), it enables the comparison of steel and concrete structures in their production, transportation and end-of-life phases, including the recovery of the concrete and the recycling of the steel products.
AMeco is available to all and is of particular use to architects and consulting engineers.
Unlike AMeco LicaBuilt, developed by the ELM team in partnership with the CRM laboratory in Liège ( Belgium ) and the Tudor Research Center (Luxembourg ) offers LCA for a whole building, including the envelope, joinery, partitions, and all other constituent elements whatever the type of materials. This enables a precise analysis of their impact on the environment (known as ‘embodied impact’). It also includes thermal analysis to calculate the energy consumption of the building during the use phase
Among the examples examined, the most notable was the benefits of sunshades on a building in the south of France. The study showed a significant saving on energy consumption for air conditioning, leading to a reduction of almost 30% of CO2 emissions.