Impacts of booming concrete production on water resources worldwide

Abstract

Concrete is the most-used construction material worldwide. Previous studies on the environmental impacts of concrete production have mainly focused on the materials involved and energy consumption, as well as CO2 emissions; little is known, however, about its water consumption as well as the effective measures to reduce such consumption. We quantify water use of global concrete production in 2012 and project the value to 2050. The results show that concrete production was responsible for 9% of global industrial water withdrawals in 2012 (this is approximately 1.7% of total global water withdrawal). In 2050, 75% of the water demand for concrete production will likely occur in regions that are expected to experience water stress. Among possible ways of mitigating water demand are choosing the appropriate selection of electricity fuel mixes and improved processing of raw materials; however, these strategies may conflict with greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. This work develops a baseline estimate for water consumption and withdrawal for concrete production and identifies locations for targeted mitigation.

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Fig. 1: Process flow diagram.
Fig. 2: Global water stress by country.
Fig. 3: Current and projected changes in water stress from concrete production relative to concrete production.
Fig. 4: Contribution of concrete to total and industrial water withdrawal.
Fig. 5: The role of selected mitigation methods on cumulative water consumption and water withdrawal for concrete.

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Acknowledgements

S.M. gratefully acknowledges the support of the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship programme. This work represents the views of the authors, not necessarily the view of the sponsor. J. D. Herman, K. Ziotopoulou and F. C. Moore are thanked for their help.

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Contributions

S.M. and A.H. developed the methodological approach. S.M. collected the data and evaluated the results. S.M., A.H. and P.M. wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sabbie A. Miller.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figs. 1–12, Supplementary Tables 1–37

Supplementary Data Set

Data on cement consumption and electricity by fuel type for different countries; and water consumption and withdrawal for production of electricity by fuel source.

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Miller, S.A., Horvath, A. & Monteiro, P.J.M. Impacts of booming concrete production on water resources worldwide. Nat Sustain 1, 69–76 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-017-0009-5

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