Tesla’s new gigafactories in Germany and Texas use less water to produce each car than the industry average, according to a report. In addition, these factories also produce batteries, which other manufacturers do not.
Water is becoming increasingly scarce as the climate changes
Tesla recently published Impact Report 2022, which included a lot of interesting and important information about its work. Among other things, the report gave detailed information on the company’s water consumption—a priority issue, as water is becoming increasingly scarce with climate change. Tesla is reducing its water usage throughout its operations as much as possible, prioritizing direct use in manufacturing. In the report, the company outlines initiatives it is taking at Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg and Gigafactory Texas to reduce water consumption per vehicle (including battery cells).
Producing an EV requires less water than producing an ICE vehicle
Each automaker may draw its boundaries slightly differently, depending on how vertically integrated they are. According to the latest publicly available figures, Tesla at its vehicle manufacturing facilities withdrew less water per vehicle produced than the majority of established automakers.
The data show that Giga Berlin consumes 1.8 cubic meters of water per vehicle produced. Giga Texas consumes 2.78 cubic meters of water per vehicle. On average, Tesla factories use 2.57 cubic meters of water to produce each car. It is worth noting that these data reflect the expected water consumption after they are launched at full capacity. At the moment, both factories are in the process of ramping up production. The industry average is 3.68 cubic meters per vehicle.
Water-intensive process optimization
Tesla is constantly optimizing or eliminating water-intensive production processes across its operations. At Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg, the company implemented hybrid cooling towers, eliminated quench tanks in casting, and introduced cascade rinsing systems in the paint shop and battery can wash process.
Rainwater and condensate harvesting and reuse
Tesla is planning to capture at least 25% of roof runoff in a central underground storage system at Gigafactory Texas. Rainwater will be recycled for use in the cooling of manufacturing equipment. In an average year, such systems should save an estimated 7.5 million gallons of potable city water.
Additionally, as hot, humid outdoor air is conditioned, water condenses out of the air. Typically, this condensate is discarded as wastewater. At Gigafactory Texas, Tesla reuses this condensate in its cooling towers and process water systems to offset incoming site water.
Reclaimed and recycled water
The “cooling tower makeup” is the single biggest contributor to water usage in any car factory, after paint operations. As water that cools machinery evaporates, it needs to be topped up regularly. The total cooling tower makeup could be offset entirely by non-potable sources such as rainwater or wastewater.
Using locally treated wastewater could result in offsetting the entire annual “cooling tower makeup” water demand with non-drinkable uses. Based on Tesla’s latest estimates, at Gigafactory Texas, this could result in an estimated 170 million gallons of potable city water conserved annually.
Starting in 2023, the company will begin using reclaimed water for its landscape irrigation needs at Gigafactory Texas. Once fully deployed, Tesla expects this to save just under 150 million gallons of potable city water annually.
A note about water usage and power generation
While many recognize the impact that power generation has on GHG emissions, its impact on water consumption is less appreciated. Power generation is one of the leading causes of water withdrawal in the U.S., as water for thermoelectric power is used to generate electricity with steam-driven turbine generators and to cool power-producing equipment. This means that every kilowatt-hour of clean solar energy produced not only lowers GHG emissions, but also lowers water consumption.
As Tesla builds more efficient factories, its waste per vehicle decreases
Tesla’s legacy manufacturing operations at the Fremont Factory will always produce more waste per vehicle than its newly designed factories. First, because the automotive supply chain does not have a strong presence on the West Coast of the U.S., many components need to be shipped from long distances, requiring excessive packaging and creating more waste than necessary. Second, modern factories are better designed for material flow. Trailer entry points surround the whole factory, which means that components can be offloaded precisely at the part of the factory where they are needed.
Tesla recycles all materials possible
The vast majority of generated waste—such as paper, plastics, and metals—is recyclable. At Gigafactory Shanghai, for example, just 7% of the total waste generated in 2022 was not recyclable. Tesla pushes for innovative approaches to waste reduction. Examples include the reduction in use of non-recyclable materials, learning from local factories, deploying improvements globally, and minimizing shipments and packaging. 90% of manufacturing waste is recycled.