The impact of climate change on the PGM industry and our key stakeholders is recognised as an overarching challenge. Operating activities associated with the exploration, extraction and processing of PGMs results in the disturbance of land, the consumption of resources and the generation of waste, emissions and water pollutants, while PGM bearing products play a meaningful role in mitigating the impact of these outcomes.

The environmental impact of the industry is a challenge to assess in full, as the global benefits of using PGMs in catalytic converters and other emission controlling technology are significant. The PGM industry therefore routinely collects and analyses data over the full life cycle of the metals to assess its environmental performance and ensure steady progress, especially with regard to its contribution to reducing Greehouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the light of climate change.

Mining companies in South Africa are regulated by an extensive framework of environmental legislation, including the National Environmental Management Act, 107 of 1998 (NEMA), and other environmental management acts which focus on waste, air quality, biodiversity, water and heritage resources.

Increased spend focus on climate change

In our SDG Mapping Report, reviewing industry spend on all SDGs for the time period 2015-2020, the primary shift in spend focus has been the growth of Climate Action (SDG 13) related proportional spend, growing by an additional 2.5% of total industry spend over the period. Given the quantum of spend in the industry, this is a significant input. While both mining and fabrication organisations have increased proportional focus on Climate Action, the real step change has come from the fabricators, driven by increasing pressures in Europe. For the PGM Industry, most of the impact (both positive and negative) related to the environment relates to climate change and water usage, even while the most visible impact may be on land usage.

Direct reported emissions from companies have risen between 2015 to 2020, with the rise also in production volumes. CO2 emissions have grown by more, tracking 38% higher in 2019 compared to 2015, against a production growth of 33% over the same period. The South African grid heavily relies on coal, and as coal quality degraded over time CO2 emissions increased. Most other GHG emissions could be reduced even though production has increased. 

Low-carbon transition of mining

All mining companies have kicked-off significant projects to decarbonize the sector by reducing the use of coal as primary energy source and replacing it by the use of renewable energies. The big platinum miners such as Anglo American Platinum, Implats, Northam and Sibanye-Stillwater plan to scale up solar and wind farms for their own use to cut reliance on state-owned utility Eskom and to reduce their carbon footprint. Another option is the use of electrolysers to generate green hydrogen, an emerging technology which will also become less costly over the next decade. This will lead to a considerably decline in emissisons of CO2 once the projects are completed and their benefits materialise.

Mining companies have adopted their individual low-carbon transition strategies towards climate change regarding the reduction of Scope 1 (direct emissions) and Scope 2 (purchased energy) GHG emissions and other focus areas such as water preservation, shift to electrified mining operations and power generation from renewable sources. 

Activities to improve environmental performance, reduce carbon intensity and reach net-zero include:

  • Continously improving ESG strategies, principles, practices and results, while providing clear and comprehensive reporting on environmental management and climate-related impacts, in line with global best practice guidelines and recommendations
  • Developing low-carbon transition strategies and appointing energy specialists to lead decarbonisation efforts
  • Identifying and implementing projects for the self-generation of energy via solar, wind and hydrogen, in addition to external sourcing of renewable energy
  • Understanding, controlling and reducing gases, dust and waste generated at operations to prevent adverse impacts on host communities
  • Integration of mine-closure planning into life-of-mine planning with a focus on rehabilitating land in parallel with mining activities, while ensuring the protection of water and biodiversity resources
  • Re-mining tailings and improving tailings storage facilities
  • Transition the drivetrain of large mining trucks from fossil fuels to battery, electric, or hydrogen
  • Reducing the overall consumption of energy and water, and specifically from fresh potable water
Carbon Footprint

How should the carbon footprint of PGMs be calculated?

To provide stakeholders involved in the PGM value chain with background information and techical guidance on what the industry perceives as best practice approach regarding the measurement of GHG emissions, the IPA has published a guidance document for the calculation of the carbon footprint of primary produced PGMs.

"The Carbon Footprint of Platinum Group Metals" complements the LCA publications that are made available on the website, and the industry-average life cycle asssessment data that LCA practitioners can source from the IPA or through the GaBi/LCA for Experts database.

The methodology explained in the document has been applied throughout two industry wide IPA studies, and is also being applied in our recent update on 2022 production (to be released in 2024).

The IPA also publishes average results on the secondary production of platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Updated results for primary production of 5 PGMs with 2022 upstream data are shared in the table below:

LCIA 2017 all 5 PGMs Primary Production

Life cycle assessment

Assessing the Life Cycle of Platinum Group Metals

The PGM industry is currently conducting its third Life Cycle Assessment, on 2021/2022 production data, with the participation of 9 out of 11 members. We expect results to be available in Q3/2024. The study is performed on the primary production of platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium and iridium, and the secondary production of platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

Second IPA LCA Study (2017 data)

In 2018, the PGM  industry has conducted a second industry-wide LCA based on 2017 production data and adapted to new reporting requirements. The study was reviewed according to ISO 14040 (2006) & 14044 (2006) and ISO/TS 14071 (2014) by and independent technical expert. The LCA has been conducted on platinum, palladium, and rhodium, since these are the most relevant metals for application in catalytic converters, an application accounting for over 70% of demand in 2021.
Data has been updated in 2022 with new upstream data (energy etc.) from the LCA for Experts/GaBi database, reflecting changes in the electricity grid and other areas. Data coverage has been expanded to primary ruthenium and iridium to reflect the growing interest in these metals. Reliable data on iridium is particularly relevant given the rapid development towards a hydrogen economy in the EU, and the upscaling of hydrogen projects based on large-scale water electrolysis. There have also been some modifications to the original secondary (recycling) data of platinum, palladium and rhodium, as more pre-processing data could be included during the recounting, and a more realistic approach to waste stream calculations has been adopted. Results tables are shown below. The data is available in the LCA for Experts/GaBi professional database or upon request from IPA (see LCA questionnaire).

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions document for further information: FAQs.

The results ouf our second LCA are presented in the Environmental Profile of PGMs and the LCA Fact Sheet.

Eleven out of twelve IPA members took part in the study, representing the primary producers of PGMs (95% representation), the secondary producers of PGMs (>70%) as well as the fabricators of autocatalysts (90% representation). Hence, the LCA study offers a remarkably high representation of the global platinum group metals production, with a high geographical and technological coverage.

The LCA Fact Sheet on Iridium and Ruthenium with updated data on Pt, Pd, Rh, can be downloaded here.

For access to iridium and ruthenium data please use our LCA Data Questionnaire or get in touch with Tania Bossi at tania.bossi(at)ipa-news.

The IPA LCA followed the "cradle-to-gate" approach which covers processes within the life cycle of the product from the extraction of the raw materials to the finished product.The separate applicaton study on autocatalyst production covers Euro-6d-TEMP modelled diesel and gasoline vehicles with an average lifetime of 160,000 km. 

Primary production results LCA 2017 GaBI 2022 updatedSecondary Production results 2022 GaBi updated