Life cycle assessment of sponge nickel produced by gas atomisation for use in industrial hydrogenation catalysis applications

Nicholas Lavery, David Jarvis, Steven Brown, Nicholas Adkins, Benjamin Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents a cradle-to-grave comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) of new gas atomised (GA) sponge nickel catalysts and evaluates their performance against the current cast and crush standard currently used in the industrial hydrogenation of butyraldehyde to butanol.
A comparative LCA has been made, accounting for the energy used and emissions throughout the entire life cycle of sponge nickel catalysts—ranging from the upstream production of materials (mainly aluminium and nickel), to the manufacturing, to the operation and finally to the recycling and disposal. The LCA was performed following ISO14040 principles where possible, and subsequently implemented in the software package GaBi 4.3. The CML2001 impact assessment methodology was used, with primary focus on comparing catalysts for equivalent greenhouse gasses generated over their lifetime and their relative global warming potential and secondary focus on acidification potential. This is justified as the lifetime is dominated by energy use in the operational phase, and acidification is dominated by the production of nickel for which existing ISO14040 collected data has been used. A sensitivity analysis was used to provide a number of scenarios and overall environmental performances of the various sponge nickels considered when compared to the existing industrial standard.
Results and discussion
It was found that the energy and emissions during the operation phase associated with a given catalyst significantly outweigh the primary production, manufacturing and recycling. Primary production of the nickel (and to a lesser extent molybdenum when used as a dopant) also has a significant environmental impact in terms of acidification potential, but this is offset by operational energy savings over the catalysts’ estimated lifetime and end of life recyclability. Finally, the impact of activity improvement and lifetime duration of sponge nickel catalysts was determined as both total life cycle energy for operational use and as a total life cycle global warming potential.
From this assessment, the newly developed, higher activity spongy nickel catalysts produced by gas atomisation could have a significantly lower environmental impact than the current industry standard cast and crush method. Given the potential environmental benefits of such catalysts, applications in other processes that require a catalyst should also be investigated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-376
JournalInt J Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number2
Early online date3 Aug 2012
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • Butyraldehyde to butanol reaction
  • Cast and crush
  • Celanese/Rhone Poulenc process
  • Gas atomisation
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Sponge (Raney) nickel


Dive into the research topics of 'Life cycle assessment of sponge nickel produced by gas atomisation for use in industrial hydrogenation catalysis applications'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this