Water conservation measures build reservoir of responsible business

We cannot water down the fact of the rising impact of climate change, particularly considering recent reports and related calls to counteract the teetering global environmental crisis. There is also no watering down the imperative for every industry to deliver effective water management and freshwater innovation.

 Water scarcity is no stranger to the warning lights switched on, but not acted on, for decades.

In 2016 it was projected that “by 2025, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water stress or scarcity conditions, and that by 2050 the number of countries facing water stress or scarcity could rise to 54, with a combined population of four billion people – about 40% of the projected global population of 9,4 billion”.[1]

The impact of scarce water is literally “ground-breaking” and calls for us to “go to ground”. 2025 is a matter of four years from now, and as, companies we must take action to counteract this near close call.

Of significance to our industry, concrete is the second most consumed resource in the world, second only to water. This harsh reality places cement producers in a position in which they must put responsible water consumption into practice and ramp up innovation around water management.

In 2020 it was estimated that 4.1 billion tons of cement was produced globally but that all of it was not used in concrete making. In other words it is not possible to estimate at a high accuracy how much water is consumed by the Cement/Concrete industry. Some, even possibly most cement plants, use water in their milling processes and these figures can vary significantly, depending on type and size of mills.

However, if we consider statistics from a decade ago to contextualise the volume of water consumed by concrete use, we see that “the water-to-cement ratio for a typical concrete formulation varies from 0.35 to 0.4 (200 of water per ± 330kg of cement which equates to 200 per m3 of concrete produced, therefore 600 water for every ton of cement used to make average strength concrete). With approximately four billion cubic meters of concrete produced annually this equates to 800 billion litres of water per annum that is chemically consumed during concrete production.”

These figures do not yet consider the curing of all this concrete for any prolonged period. What is evident is that such water usage ratios emphasise the massive scale of responsibility.

Matsidiso Thelingwani, the Environmental Performance Manager at Sephaku Cement says:

 Water is a precious shared resource by our communities, industries and local farmers, all of which are largely dependent on the area’s available groundwater resources. We take our imperative to protect our water sources and deliver a top Environmental Performance very seriously. Without access to water our business could not operate. Water is consequently a material operational and of strategic concern, and water stewardship is fundamental to achieving our strategic and financial objectives.”

Sephaku Cement follows a circle of responsible water stewardship through its operations.

Here are some of the dynamic water ways of the company’s Aganang Plant, situated approximately 40km west of the town of Lichtenburg that is located in the North West Province of South Africa, which is a water-stressed region in the world. The area is well known for its agricultural activities and its cement industries, both of which are largely dependent on the area’s available groundwater resources.

  • Sephaku Cement’s water management programmes include active monitoring and water balancing programmes; storm water management and water use licensing process management; as well as water and environmental awareness programmes.
  • The flagship integrated clinker and cement production plant was designed to drain all stormwater that falls into the process areas into concrete lined canals and pathways, routing this water to a single discharge point where the wastewater is further directed into two Return Water Dams.
  • The plant has three authorised dams, namely one 275 000m3 borrow pit and two return water dams (45 000m3 each) storage capacities. The company’s mine has four operational pits and dewatering of these pits is done continuously, both as a safety measure and to allow for continuation of mining purposes. The borrow pit collects the water from the pits in the mining area and the water from the borrow pit is used for dust suppression on haul roads.
  • Water from Sephaku Cement’s return water dam is recycled and re-used as process water and offsetting use of water from boreholes. This allows for groundwater to be used by local communities for agricultural activities which forms part of the company’s commitment to measurably reduce its water footprint.

Ultimately long-term water supply must be the overarching objective for both companies and industries. Restoration and protection of our life-giving ecosystem, which rests in each of our spheres of control, all counts towards a contribution to reset existing imbalances.

[1] Technologies that reduce water use in cement and concrete help global industry address mounting concerns of water scarcity, Population Action International, September 12, 2016