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Shell and fresh water
The energy sector, like others, is becoming increasingly concerned about water use as water becomes scarcer globally. New approaches and advanced technologies are helping us to reduce the amount of water we need for our operations.
Oman, where we clear contaminated water using reed beds
Energy and water are interconnected. The energy industry needs water for drilling, flooding wells, refining crude and producing biofuels.
Water is also used as steam to drive electricity turbines in power generation.
At the same time, the purification, distribution and treatment of water and waste water require energy.
Demand for fresh water is growing. Yet access to fresh water supplies is becoming more restricted for many people. In some regions, freshwater reserves are being used up or polluted faster than they can be replenished.
And the world’s water resources will come under even greater stress between now and 2050 as populations grow and become wealthier.
At Shell we have water management plans at our operations to help us monitor and reduce our water use in water-stressed areas. Growing crops to make biofuels, for example, can be water intensive.
But sourcing the raw materials in countries like Brazil, where high rainfall reduces the need for artificial irrigation, can make a difference.
Shell is investing in Brazilian sugar-cane ethanol through Raízen, our joint venture with Cosan.
In its processing mills Raízen uses a system that recycles 90% of the water used to convert sugar cane into ethanol.
Elsewhere we use advanced technology to help reduce our water use.
Our Pearl GTL plant in Qatar, for example, turns natural gas to liquid products and is designed to take no fresh water from its arid surroundings.
In Oman we are using reed beds to clean water produced with oil.
This saves the energy needed to pump water back into the ground.
At the SAPREF refinery (Shell interest 37.5%) in South Africa we use recycled household water and in the Netherlands, the Schoonebeek (Shell interest 30%) project will reuse municipal wastewater to make steam.
Looking to the future
The pressure on water and energy will continue to grow in the coming decades driven by rising prosperity and rapid urbanisation.
To improve the measurement of water use in industry, in 2011 we worked with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the University of Utrecht to develop a new methodology.
Now we can estimate more accurately the amount of water needed to generate energy from different sources – including oil, gas, coal, nuclear and biofuels – using different technologies and in different locations.
The findings were published in early 2012 in a peer-reviewed academic journal. We are sharing our data with the wider business sector and the International Energy Agency.
We are also leading work through the WBCSD on the energy-water-food nexus – the interconnected relationship between three of the world’s most vital resources.