Conserving Water through Efficiency, Technology
Water is an important raw material for Alcoa, with our refining and ingot-casting processes requiring significant water resources. We work to ensure water efficiency across all of our operations, but we place an even greater focus on conservation in regions where water availability is most sensitive.
In water-scarce Western Australia, we have evaluated a number of applications that might greatly reduce the evaporation of stored water so that more is available for re-use. We also have evaluated secondary sources of water that can be used in our processes and still allow us to meet product quality requirements. Our Pinjarra Refinery, for example, is working on a project to install a pipeline that would deliver secondary-treated wastewater from a nearby municipal wastewater treatment plant to the refinery for use in its processes.
Our total use of freshwater decreased in 2012 versus 2011 largely due to the reduction in water use at our Intalco Works (Washington, USA), Juruti Mine in Brazil, and Australian refineries. Through 2012, we reduced our freshwater-use intensity (consumption per unit of production) by 24% versus 2005 levels, almost achieving our 2020 goal of 25%. This significant improvement is largely due to conservation efforts at our Western Australia refineries and Intalco Works in the United States.
In early 2012, we set new goals for freshwater-use intensity to continue to push our businesses and operations to stretch themselves to make our water-dependent processes as efficient as possible. Our new goals are to achieve a 25% improvement in freshwater-use intensity by 2020 and 30% by 2030 versus 2005 levels.
Cubic meters of water per metric ton of production
|Goal: 25% reduction||Progress: As of Dec. 2012 |
Total Freshwater Use
Millions of cubic meters
Total Freshwater Use by Region
Millions of cubic meters
We continue to focus on the development, evaluation, and deployment of innovative and low-cost sustainable water management technologies and approaches. Such approaches focus on moving completely away from the conventional and more costly end-of-pipe water treatment technologies.
In addition to looking at production process changes to reduce the need for water, we are also focused on the use of significantly lower-cost natural-system applications for both water reduction and treatment. Such applications, which could cost up to 75% less than conventional technologies, include green roofs, water irrigation onto fields of grass and trees, engineered wetlands, and the use of various media for filtration of water contaminants, known as natural media filtration.
For the Ma’aden-Alcoa joint venture in Saudi Arabia, the partners developed a sustainable water vision for achieving the dual goals of zero process water discharge and 100% water reuse. The complex will use the Alcoa-developed Natural Engineered Wastewater Treatment (NEWT) system to collect all sanitary and process wastewaters for treatment. Collected stormwater will be treated via an innovative activated alumina adsorption process.
An engineered natural system (ENS) that will be completed in 2013 at the Alcoa Fjarðaál smelter in Iceland will meet all government requirements and Alcoa criteria for stormwater treatment. The ENS comprises vegetation and engineered soil profiles over the entire site, as well as two constructed treatment wetlands that occupy approximately two hectares (five acres). This is the first full-scale natural treatment system for smelter stormwater in Alcoa.
Strategic Water Management Study
To implement new water technology at a location, we first establish a detailed water budget for the entire operation and surrounding plant property. Detailed mapping of inputs, flow paths, outputs with volumes, and quality designations are produced. From this study, the facility’s planning staff can isolate and prioritize conservation opportunities to act on those with the most potential impact and that are easiest to achieve.
Such opportunities cover the following areas:
- Minimization of stormwater runoff;
- Natural treatment systems to collect and treat stormwater runoff for process water reuse;
- Innovative cooling water treatment recycling and reuse; and
- Process water use and discharge reduction focused on eventual elimination.
We believe industry must play a key role in establishing a sustainable balance in water use and that water is a key raw material that must be managed closely in terms of availability and cost. This will allow us to avoid business risk and remain welcomed in the communities where we currently operate or desire to grow.
We are an active participant in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s efforts on best practice sharing, technology sharing, and getting member companies focused on charting a worldwide sustainable water course. Specific focus areas include:
- Identifying strategic water risks/opportunities;
- Establishing a common understanding of the challenges facing businesses; and
- Enabling constructive engagement with wider stakeholders through business participation, a shared understanding, and a common language.
This business collaboration is aimed at addressing some of today’s water challenges:
- Rapidly rising demand due to many uses, more users, and expanding urban footprints;
- Tightening of more complex supply-demand balances;
- Increasing water stress and declining water quality; and
- Reduced water security for more people, markets, and countries that is exacerbated by concerns regarding food, energy, and climate change.
In 2012, Alcoa Foundation initiated a partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) to develop a Water Management Leadership Index to rank publicly traded companies on their water stewardship and management of water-related risks. The water index will encourage corporations to understand the supply chain’s exposure to water and other water issues that could substantially affect business operations, revenue, or expenditure.
The world’s water management challenge is everyone’s business. This requires more than technology and financing; it requires new mindsets and tools, more cooperation, and the alignment of networked governance capacities that anticipate the wider and evolving environmental situation.
Innovative Wastewater Treatment System Reduces Costs, Reuses Bauxite Residue
Sustainable System Treats Stormwater Runoff with Nature’s Help