It might come as a surprise, but data centers use more water indirectly, thought electricity, than directly through cooling. This is due to the way most electricity is produced. With the exception of alternative power generation methods, like wind and solar, most power generation is achieved through heating water and turning it into steam that drives turbines. The steam that drives the turbine needs to be cooled by another source of cold water. If a body of water is nearby, like a lake or a river, then water is drawn from there. If not, a cooling tower is usually used. Cooling towers are common to natural gas, coal and nuclear power generation. Water that passes through the cooling tower usually loses about 2% of its volume to evaporation. It doesn’t seem like much, but on a scale of hundreds of thousands of gallons it begins to add up. Power generation facilities can compensate for this evaporation loss through rainwater harvesting, which is a feasible solution given the size of the facility. This dramatically reduces strain on the regular water supply.
While the examples of power plants and data centers are relatively niche, there are a variety of industrial applications of rainwater that shouldn’t be overlooked. For example, facilities that serve or employ large fleets of vehicles need also to have a facility for washing them. Vehicle washing equipment is perfectly capable of using rainwater. The more vehicles a company has, the more economically feasible and ecologically beneficial it is to install a rainwater harvesting system.
Many manufacturing facilities have on-site laundering. Manufacturing plants, especially those that have processes involving direct contact with raw materials, need to wash work clothes on a daily basis. This basic task constitutes enormous water consumption, and is the perfect candidate for using rainwater in its processes. Industrial facilities themselves may also need to be cleaned on a daily basis to maintain health and safety standards. Obviously, the average factory doesn’t need to adhere to hospital levels of spotlessness. Thus, rainwater is perfect for the job. Implementing rainwater in just a few of these aspects of manufacturing can help conserve thousands of gallons of water each year.
Additionally, quite a few manufacturing processes involve dust. Building material production, textiles, grain processing – these are some examples where dust can be not only an issue of cleanliness but a genuine danger to health. Dusty processes usually have dust suppression measures that involve spraying water at the source of dust, so that it is immediately washed away without getting the chance to become airborne. Something as simple as a stone saw requires a large tank of water to spray the blade so the stone dust particles are suppressed. On a scale of a factory, this translates to enormous quantities of water, and there is no reason why rainwater cannot be used in this scenario for both economic and water conservation reasons. Rainwater harvesting is a highly effective water conservation method, and if you are a manufacturer, survey your plant to see where rainwater can be used. You’re sure to find it.
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