Elon Musk probably never imagined water would become an issue when he set out to build his shiny new gigafactory in Berlin. He hit the ground running, his foot pushing hard on the production pedal to build one of the largest factories in the world at full throttle speed.
Tesla moved bureaucratic mountains and chopped down trees to lay the groundwork for its fourth production plant, proudly set to feature the largest battery-cell manufacturing facility worldwide.
The giant Berlin factory aims to ramp up production and adoption of electric cars, accelerating the global race to transition to renewable energy-driven transport. It may be surprising, then, that environmental impact became a major sticking point to the completion of the factory – but two-thirds of the Tesla site is located in a designated drinking water protection zone.
A major conflict erupted.
The factory aims to produce an initial 500,000 cars per year – a feat that would use as much water as a town with a population of 40,000. Local residents feared that groundwater levels in the region could dramatically fall, and the region is one of Germany’s driest, already prone to bouts of drought.
Elon Musk attempted to assuage fears over water supply, but construction came to a halt late last year when a judge ruled in favour of environmentalist concerns.
Tesla has already made concessions on its water usage, promising to address environmental concerns by planting trees on land three times the size of its Berlin factory plot and reducing its water usage by more than 50%.
However, far-left activists have gone so far as to claim responsibility for a factory fire that cut the Tesla site’s power supply in a continued show of opposition.
And the Tesla factory isn’t the only major construction site to face a fierce standoff over water and environmental issues:
The HS2 high-speed rail link that aims to connect 30 million people – stretching straight across the UK from London to Scotland has come under fire from environmental campaigners citing fears over potential pollution to neighbouring drinking water supplies.
And their fears aren’t unfounded – water scarcity is a very real and present environmental danger.
Demand for water is forecast to exceed sustainable supplies by 40% within the next 9 years, threatening water resources for 3 billion people. 21 of the world’s top 37 aquifers are running dry. New research has revealed that oxygen levels in lakes have declined 3-9 times faster in the last 40 years, further threatening drinking water supplies and ecosystems and accelerating global warming.
Protests over freshwater supply and usage will likely become an ever more present fact of modern life, as demand for water continues to spill over onto dwindling supplies.
However, the solution won’t lie in simply putting a full stop to infrastructure, factories, and manufacturing, but in adapting to earth’s demands with circular economy solutions that work in tandem with nature.
We can change the way we use and manage water.
“A way to address water scarcity is to get better at reusing the water we’re already using and we’re going to have to be desalinating more sea water. In order to do both of those you need low-cost, sustainable, green filtration products,” says Bryan Eagle, Glanris CEO.
And, luckily for Elon Musk, innovative cleantech solutions are coming to the fore to do just that.
Glanris is one such circular economy solution that takes agriculture’s biggest waste product – rice hulls – and processes it to create a high-performance hybrid water filtration media. It’s faster, more efficient, and significantly cheaper than traditional water filtration methods.
Since its 2018 launch, Glanris has made headway with large-scale U.S. industrial clients looking for cheaper, greener and more efficient ways to manage their water.
“We want to take the largest agricultural waste product in the world – 218 billion pounds of rice hulls – and convert it from a product that’s burnt, to a product with a circular economy application, solving our water security and scarcity problems,” says Eagle.
“If we can stop burning hulls and turn it into a water filtration media, not only do you stop billions of pounds of greenhouse gases from being produced every year, but you’re sequestering carbon for the next 10,000 years.
“Every big company today is using water somewhere in their process and they need to treat it before they can discharge it. A lot of these big companies have Chief Sustainability Officers who are saying; ‘why are we discharging this water? Why aren’t we just reusing this water? They’re really interested in green sustainable solutions and getting away from microplastics in filters,” says Eagle.
Treating water like the scarce resource that it is means applying better strategies for recycling and reusing water. And as major water consumers, large industrial sites and factories can do their part to protect groundwater and drinking water supplies by pumping water once, reusing it many times, and cleaning it with green, sustainable filters.