Iron ore and coal might be the two most essential raw materials to make steel. But there is a third one that is almost equally important — water. The atomic mix of hydrogen and oxygen is used to cool hot, molten iron, which might otherwise take too long to lose its heat. But in a country where per capital availability of water has fallen by 60 percent, it is criminal that the local steel industry is quite lax in using this precious source. According to a study done by Centre for Science and Environment, Indian steelmakers, on an average, use 10 to 80 cubic metre of water for making a tonne of steel. The global standard is five to 10 cubic metres.
A few steel companies though, have tried to make a difference. This includes Tata Steel and Essar Steel. Tata Steel has reduced water consumption by more than 70 percent since the turn of the millennium, easing pressure on Jamshedpur's strained resources.
Essar Steel too has managed to meet global standard in water usage. The Hazira, Gujarat-based steel maker uses 2.06 cubic metre of water per tonne of steel. "This is much below the norms prescribed under corporate responsibility for environment protection, which sets the limit at eight cubic metres per tonne," says Dilip Oommen, CEO & MD, Essar Steel India.
The company launched a water policy in 2008, after which a 'water cell' was formed. The cell consists of 30 executives who conduct water audits, including daily review of consumption. The company's engineers also found a way to resuse the effluent flowing from the captive power plant in the steelmaking process. Last year, the company saved almost 5 million cubic metres of water by reusing this effluent in its steel mill, which is equal to the annual water requirement of almost 5,000 Indians. Essar Steel saved another two million cubic metres of water by conserving rainwater.
Apart from sharing this learning with other companies in the Essar Group, the steel maker is exchanging notes on water management with its other peers in the industry including Steel Authority of India Limited and Tata Steel.