It's been a cold and rainy 'summer' so far in 2013 in the UK. So much so that crowds at the Glastonbury Music Festival watching the Rolling Stones this weekend were lucky they didn't get drenched during 'Jumpin' Jack Flash.' However, cement producers around the world are increasingly tackling the opposite problem as they concentrate on water conservation measures.
As we see this week, the Cement Manufacturers' Association of the Philippines (CeMAP) has started advocating the use of rainwater for cement production. According to figures put out by CeMAP, an average dry-process cement plant uses 100-200L of water per tonne of clinker produced. The Philippines uses around 3.2BnL/yr of water for its cement production capacity of 21Mt/yr, which operated at an 85% capacity utilisation rate in 2012. A simple calculation reveals a water usage rate of 179L/t of cement produced in the Philippines. Though close to the top of CeMAP's dry-process water use range, it is actually less than some of the multinational cement producers (see below).
Water conservation among multinational cement producers has become increasingly high-profile in recent years. In January 2013 Cemex announced that it had developed a methodology to standardise water measurement and management across all of the company's operations. This followed a three year partnership between Cemex and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In its 2012 Sustainability Report Cemex reported that 12% of its cement operations were in water-scarce or water-stressed locations. Its water consumption for cement was 305L/t. This compares to Holcim's water consumption for cement of 260L/t in 2012.
Other multinational cement producers have put into place similar measures. Lafarge started to assess its 'water risk' in 2011. It found that 25% of its cement production sites were located in areas of water scarcity or high water scarcity, based on 2025 projections of annual renewable water supplies per person. A follow-up with the WWF Water Risk Filter (WRF) continued the assessment, identifying 15 Lafarge cement sites as being located in 'high-risk' basins, with 10 particular sites identified in Pakistan, India, Algeria, Mexico, Jordan, China, South Africa, Iraq and Uganda.
It is worth noting here that most of these countries are currently growth areas for cement demand and so producers with plans to expand in these regions need to tread a careful line. Cement makers that use vast amounts of water in water-scarce regions will be less desirable neighbours for local populations than those that use less water. This, like consumer and regulatory pressures in developed markets, could turn into a major driving factor for improved environmental performance in developing regions. Investing in water conservation measures therefore appears to make sense socially, environmentally and (ultimately) economically.