Purdue University Graduate School
Thesis_Perspective and Dynamic life cycle assessment of critical materials_Tai-Yuan.pdf (5.84 MB)

Thesis_Perspective and Dynamic life cycle assessment of critical materials_Tai-Yuan.pdf

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posted on 2022-12-01, 22:54 authored by Tai-Yuan HuangTai-Yuan Huang

Critical materials are crucial to the wide deployment of clean energy technologies and advanced technology such as electric vehicles (EVs), smartphones, high-efficiency lighting, and wind turbines. Particularly, rare earth elements (REEs) and lithium are key elements for clean energy and EVs. However, higher REEs and lithium demand for clean energy transformation, extreme supply reliance on certain area exports, and severe environmental issues during mining and processing cause uncertainty for future clean energy and transportation development. Our study aims to develop dynamic LCA with scenario analysis to simulate the future possible sustainability pathways for critical materials for stakeholders and apply life cycle assessment (LCA) to evaluate the latest REEs and lithium extraction and recycling technologies. Dynamic LCA (DLCA) integrates the temporal datasets to predict the future environmental impact of a product. The databases are mainly from Ecoinvent and Critical Materials Life Cycle Assessment Tool (CMLCAT). Python package Brightway2 and Temporalis are used to simulate the DLCA.

The study of DLCA on the REEs industry reveals the future predictive REEs environmental impact trend, providing a clear policy strategy to reach sustainability goals for stakeholders. The results show that shifting REEs resources from China to Australia and increasing the recycling rate are key factors in reducing environmental impact in the future. Considering the degradation of rare earths ore and storage depletion in China, such as the decreased production of heavy REEs from Ion adsorption clay in southern China, exploration, and inclusion of potential REEs production projects will be the possible sustainable way in the following decade. 

LCA of RE recovery from room temperature ionic liquid (RTIL) electrochemical process helps us explore the benefits of recycling RE from the e-waste. Although RTIL contributes a higher impact on ozone depletion and global warming, close-loop recycling RTIL could reduce substantial environmental impact. Lithium recovery from geothermal brine provides the great source for fulfilling the domestic demand of the U.S. Compared to the conventional Li compounds production, this method is efficient and has 25-41% lower global warming potential. The government, researchers, and industry could benefit from this study for exploring advantage and drawback strategies for the future environmental footprint of NdFeB magnet production and identifying environmental hotspots of the latest recycling and extraction process of REEs and lithium.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Fu Zhao

Additional Committee Member 2

Inez Hua

Additional Committee Member 3

Larry F. Nies

Additional Committee Member 4

Hongyue Jin

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