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Keywords:

  • ceramics;
  • environmental impact;
  • industrial ecology;
  • life cycle assessment (LCA);
  • materials efficiency;
  • ZnO varistors

Summary

Zinc oxide (ZnO) polycrystalline ceramics are the focal point of lightning arrester technology. These semiconductor materials are able to switch rapidly from high to low impedance while handling large amounts of electrical energy. Since the early 1970s, considerable efforts have been made to improve the specific energy absorption capacity and device reliability of such components. This document describes a case study carried out on the life cycle impacts of three different designs of electroceramics made of ZnO. Results show that the best design involves decreasing the diameter while maintaining the thickness of the compound. Of the production, transport, use, and end-of-life phases, the use phase is found to contribute by far the most to environmental impacts, with leakage currents in the 10−6 ampere range. The next-largest impacts come in the transport and production stages. Sensitivity analysis shows that impacts associated with the production stage originate from ZnO production and are related to the by-products (heavy metals) of zinc metallurgy.