The topic of water scarcity came up during a high level meeting last week between The Ford Motor Company and the G7 Alliance on Resource Protection, and that brings up an issue that has been gliding under the EV screen. Zero emissions or not, EV ownership still involves many other lifecycle impacts hauled around by personal mobility devices, and water is one of them.
The G7 Alliance
For those of you new to the topic, G7 is the latest incarnation of G8, an informal group of industrial democracies that began forming in 1975, in the aftermath of the OPEC oil embargo. Russia had membership until 2014 when it was booted out over the Crimea invasion, and the current roster of seven consists of Canada France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union also comes along for the ride in the form of a “nonenumerated” member.
Last summer, the G7 met and agreed that supply chain sustainability was a key issue. That decision lead to the creation of the G7 Alliance for Resource Protection, which launched last fall. Here’s how the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes its mission:
The alliance was established to share best practices on how to use natural resources more efficiently, which will protect jobs, create new ones, and strengthen economies while protecting the environment.
The Alliance has quite a bit of catching up to do. The G7 has quantified the problem in these terms:
For every one percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent . . . much of raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste with[in] one year…
EPA frames the problem in terms of population growth, charting a rate of raw materials usage that increased at approximately twice the rate of population growth throughout the 20th century.
In particular, the disconnect between population and water is pretty alarming. According to the United Nations “Water for Life”campaign:
Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.
Ford And Sustainable Supply Chain Management
This all adds up to an unsustainable consumption pattern, and Ford is one of the global companies that has been trying to wrestle things down to a more sustainable level.
Along with our sister site CleanTechnica, Gas2.org has been following Ford’s progress on EVs and other clean tech, from electric bicycles to supply chain management, so it’s no surprise that Ford was invited to brief Alliance’s G7 Workshop on Sustainable Supply Chain Management, which met on March 22 and 23 in an event hosted by EPA.
At the briefing, Ford introduced its PACE (Partnership for A Cleaner Environment) sustainable supply chain management initiative, which focuses on energy and carbon dioxide as well as water. Ford first launched PACE on a test basis in 2014, and rapidly expanded it to include 25 of its most important suppliers, covering 800 facilities in 41 countries. The idea is to motivate suppliers by demonstrating that conservation translates into cost savings.
According to Ford, the latest iteration of its strategy aligns with the 2007 United Nations CEO Water Mandate, which commits its member companies to report their conservation progress annually.
Ford actually began setting its own year-to-year goal before the UN mandate, in 2000, with a particular focus on facilities located in regions at risk of water scarcity. The initial target after the mandate was a global reduction per vehicle by 30 percent by 2015, compared to a 2009 baseline, which is now old history because Ford accomplished that goal two years early and has set new targets.
In terms of gallons, Ford estimates that it saved more than 10 billion between 2000 and 2013, working out to a 61 percent decrease in its total consumption.
The Cuautitlán Water Reduction Case Study
That finally brings us around to how much water it takes to manufacture a typical EV, or for that matter any typical car. EPA has tossed out a figure of almost 40,000 gallons per vehicle including tires, and Ford has come up with a total lifecycle analysis in the chart below. If you have another set of numbers drop us a note in the comment thread.
In its 2013/2014 sustainability report, Ford describes how it reduced water consumption in its Cuautitlán, Mexico facility by almost 58 percent in three years.
Since the plant was first constructed in 1964, beverage companies and other large scale consumers have piled on to the region, leading to a strain on water supplies and consequently new government restrictions on consumption. As Ford adapted to the new environment, it tackled the problem from a couple of different angles.
One thing that Ford took a close look at was consumption outside of the manufacturing process. Its non-manufacturing actions included installing an entirely separate system for potable water used in the cafeteria, replacing asphalt in the parking lots with porous surfaces to absorb more rainwater into the ground, and using recycled water to irrigate an employee soccer field and other landscaping.
On the manufacturing side, Ford concentrated on the steps involved in the painting process. It introduced a condensed “3-wet paint” system that saves energy and water, and a new pre-painting treatment that also reduces energy and water consumption.
The company also estimates that it is saving approximately 1,000 cubic meters of water monthly by introducing a new process that replaces phosphates with zirconium oxide.
Ford’s water page provides more detail on its global water conservation strategies.
As for EV ownership, the water issue is yet another reason to go electric — assuming that your electricity comes from a renewable source, of course.
In a lifecycle automobile water use study with Georgia Tech, Ford found that for gasmobiles, by far the most water consumption occurs after the manufacturing stage, due to the water used to produce fuel.
Images (screenshots): via Ford Motor Company.