Blog: Climate - How the steel industry is coping with water scarcity

Åsa Ekdahl

Head, Environment and Climate Change

23 September 2020

Water is vital to produce steel. It ensures the cooling of high-temperature processes and provides essential functions in gas cleaning and treatment processes. Without water, steelmaking would not be possible.

Fresh water resources and access to these resources vary significantly in the world, and the pattern is changing. Due to climate change, areas known for water scarcity are becoming even drier and regions where water was already abundant are becoming wetter. 

Demand for water resources is accelerating due to the population growth, increased energy requirements, food production, and of course, industrial activity.

The steel industry is well aware of the current challenges linked to climate change and growing population. We are working to continuously improve the way we manage water by reducing the amount we use and above all by ensuring we use water sustainably.

Did you know that though the steel industry uses large amounts of water (especially for cooling), very little is actually consumed, with about 90% released back to the source? In addition, the released water is often cleaner than when extracted due to the advanced water cleaning practices in place.

The steel industry strives to increase the reuse and recirculation of water within the steel manufacturing process. Most of the water consumed is due to evaporation during the cooling operations.

But to be truly sustainable, it is crucial to make a holistic assessment of the local circumstances, adapt the use and treatment of water according to the specific situation and consider innovative solutions.

This means, for example, that when water is scarce to apply zero liquid discharge practices or to reuse effluents from cities to avoid extracting fresh water.

All steel plants are unique, and this also applies to the way water is managed within a steelmaking plant. 

At worldsteel, we work with our members to spread best practices and share solutions through expert groups and workshops. worldsteel has also recently published a public policy paper that addresses the issues above mentioned in greater detail. 

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