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Addressing the excessive water consumption of materials manufacturing

With rapidly increasing urbanization, a substantial portion of global freshwater is used for the manufacture of construction materials, such as steel and cement. This threatens to intensify competition over the allocation of blue water (from lakes, rivers and aquifers). However, much less attention has been paid to the virtual water content of materials, and the water–materials nexus.

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Fig. 1: Trends of global freshwater withdrawals alongside global production of crude steel, primary aluminium and cement between 1900 and 2021.
Fig. 2: Annual and cumulative water footprints of the production of crude steel, cement and primary aluminium between 1900 and 2021.


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The authors wish to thank T. Wang from Tongji University and Z. Cao from Nankai University for their support in reviewing data sources and repositories. This article was supported by a grant from the University of Cambridge and the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. This article was further supported by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 52070034).

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Correspondence to Asaf Tzachor or Heming Wang.

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Nature Water thanks Husam Sameer Al-Baghdadi for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Tzachor, A., Wang, H. & Richards, C.E. Addressing the excessive water consumption of materials manufacturing. Nat Water 2, 4–7 (2024).

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