(3BL Media/JustMeans) Water is not something that should ever be wasted. Just ask Californians who are suffering through their fifth year of drought. General Motors clearly understands that water conservation is essential as the company’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, where the Chevrolet Volt is manufactured, now has a a rainwater capture system.
It took two years to complete the rainwater capture project which allows rainwater to be reused in manufacturing. The assembly plant, which is four million square feet, already had two rainwater retention ponds on its grounds, but it paid to send the excess water to the city’s treatment plant.
The fees it paid accounted for 14 percent of the assembly plant’s utility bill, so adding a third pond allowed the site to hold 47 million gallons of water, which is equivalent to a once in a 100 years storm event. The rainwater capture system allows GM to save $1.64 million a year while reducing its environmental impact. The rainwater project will pay for itself in a little over a year.
Rain comes into storm drains and then flows to the ponds. Floating pumps then transfer the captured rainwater to the plant’s power house and the power house treats the water with sand filters. The treated water is fed into the plant’s cooling towers, which reduces water use by 20 percent and saves $140,000 a year. The rest of the water is purified with carbon filters and reverse osmosis. Detroit Renewable Power plans to turn the water into steam to heat and cool the GM plant, plus 145 other Detroit area businesses. Any of the reject water from the purification process is used to help break down the paint sludge remaining from painting cars, which saves $75,000.
GM is committed to reducing water intensity by 15 percent by 2020 from a 2010 baseline at its global facilities. So far, GM has reduced water intensity by almost 10 percent over the past six years. The rainwater project at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly is one way that GM plans to meet its goal.
GM has other water saving projects in its facilities around the globe. In Joinville, Brazil GM uses reverse osmosis to filter water from recycled wastewater and use it for flushing toilets and industrial uses at its engine plant. It is the first automotive facility to use treated wastewater and saves the plant 22.9 million liters a year, equivalent to nine Olympic-sized swimming pools. GM has a number of water conservation projects at its two plants in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The company held two full-day workshops with employees at the two South African plants and identified 7,360 kiloliters of water savings.
GM also works to protect watersheds with its watershed education program, called GM GREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network). The 26 year-old program helps young people understand how they impact local watersheds. The program is the longest running conservation education program run by an automaker and reaches 150,000 young people. There are 50 facilities that are part of the program, including all of GM’s U.S. and Canadian manufacturing plants. GM now includes dealers in the program in order to spread awareness.