Archive:Water use in industry

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Cooling for electricity production dominates water use in industry

Statistics in focus 14/2014; Author: Jürgen FÖRSTER
ISSN:2314-9647  Catalogue number:KS-SF-14-014-EN-N

Industry is one of the main water users in Europe, accounting for about 40 % of total water abstractions. Water is used in the production process (e.g. for cooling purposes, for cleaning/washing as well as for employees’ use) and is either provided by a public supplier or self-supplied. Furthermore the industrial sector is a major water polluter, as only up to 60 % (value based on data from eight countries) of industrial wastewater receives treatment before being disposed of into the environment.

This article provides information related to water abstraction (volumes of water withdrawn from the different sources), use (water that is actually used for industrial processing, excluding returned water) and wastewater generation by the industrial sector in European countries (EU Member States, candidate countries and EFTA countries).

Figure 1: Share of total abstractions for the manufacturing industry and for production of electricity (primarily cooling), 2011 (%)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_abs)
Table 1: Total water abstraction, share of surface water abstraction (m3 abstraction per inhabitant; % abstracted from surface water)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_abs)
Table 2: Share of industries in total water use(%)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_cat) (env_wat_ind)
Table 3: Water use for mining and quarrying by supply category, 2002-11 (m3 per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_cat)
Table 4: Water use in the manufacturing industry by supply category, 2003-11 (m3 per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_ind)
Figure 2: Water use in the manufacturing industry by activity, 2011 (m3 per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_ind) (tps00001)
Table 5: Water use from self and other supply for energy production, 2006-11 (m3 per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_cat)
Figure 3: Water use from self and other supply for cooling in energy production, 2002-11 (m3 per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_cat)
Table 6: Water use by category of water supply in the construction industry, 2002-11 (million m3)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_cat)
Figure 4: Intensity of water use in main industrial sectors (gross value added in basic prices; m3 total water use per thousand euro GVA in the sector)
Source: Eurostat (env_wat_cat) (nama_nace21_c)
Table 7: Generation of wastewater by main industrial sector, 2011 (million m3)
Source: Eurostat (env_ww_genv)
Figure 5: Discharges of industrial wastewater after treatment in 'other' wastewater treatment plants (mainly industrial WWTP), 2007-11 (%)
Source: Eurostat (env_ww_genv)
Table 8: Industrial wastewater discharges after and without treatment, 2011 (million m3)
Source: Eurostat (env_ww_genv)

Main statistical findings

Water abstractions

Eurostat collects data on water abstractions for four main industrial sectors: (i) mining and quarrying, (ii) manufacturing, (iii) production of electricity, and (iv) construction and other industrial activities. Data cover the period 2000-11, but are not available for all countries and categories.

In 2010 fresh surface and groundwater abstraction for mining and quarrying ranged from 0.9 million m3 (the Netherlands) to 2 122.3 million m3 (Germany). Surface water is the main source of abstractions (long-term average abstractions over 50 % of total) in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia. Abstractions of groundwater exceed 80 % of the total in Latvia (long-term average 94 %), Belgium (87 %), Hungary (87 %), and Poland (84 %).

Abstractions for the manufacturing industry (including for cooling purposes) and for production of electricity (primarily cooling water) account for more than 50 % of total gross abstractions in most countries (Figure 1). Fresh surface and groundwater abstractions for the manufacturing industry decreased in most countries in the 2000-11 period, with the exception of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (+269 %), Romania (+231 %), the Netherlands (+129 %), Austria (+32 %), and Sweden (+3 %). In the production of electricity (cooling) Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Finland and the UK (data for England and Wales only) reduced their abstractions.

The evolution of water abstraction for construction and other industrial activities varies between countries. For example, abstractions in Belgium decreased by 85 % in 2009 compared with 2000, while in Bulgaria abstractions increased in this period by 392 %. The Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria recorded the highest abstraction volumes (over 200 million m3). Table 1 shows the per capita total (surface and groundwater) abstraction for each main industrial sector and the share of surface water abstraction in total water abstraction. Estonia has very high abstraction rates per capita in two of these sectors: ‘mining and quarrying’, and ‘production of electricity’. In 15 out of 26 countries in Table 1 the highest values of per capita abstractions are observed for ‘production of electricity’, followed by ‘manufacturing’.

Non-fresh water resources are abstracted in some countries for the manufacturing and energy production industries. In 2010, non-fresh water sources abstracted for the manufacturing industry stood at 821 million m3 in Turkey, 507 million m3 in Sweden, 273 million m3 in the Netherlands and 229 million m3 in Spain. Non-fresh water abstracted for the production of electricity (cooling water) in 2010 reached 11 293 million m3 in Sweden, 4 125 million m3 in Turkey, 3 990 million m3 in the Netherlands and 1 163 million m3 in Cyprus.

Water use in industry

Water use (by the four main industrial sectors) from public water supply accounts for between 2 % (Poland) and 50 % (Latvia) of total use for the activities of all NACE classes. Self and other water supply for industrial use stands at over 60 % of this total use, reaching 90 % in some countries (e.g. 92 % in Bulgaria; 2011 data). Manufacturing and energy production together account for over 70 % of total water use (the majority of water is used for cooling purposes) in most countries, with the exception of Spain (25 % of total; 2010 data) and Turkey (13 %; 2010 data).

There are large differences among countries in the break-down of water use in industry, depending on the industry that prevails in each country, as illustrated in Table 2.

In 13 out of 17 countries in Table 2, production and distribution of electricity is the dominant industry in terms of water use. In Cyprus (2010 data), Serbia (2011 data), Bulgaria (2011 data) and Poland (2011 data) water use in the production and distribution of electricity is greater than 90 % of total water use in industry.

Both the production and distribution of electricity as well as manufacturing industry are significant water users in Latvia (2007 data, only public water supply), with proportions of water use of 52 % and 46 % respectively. In all countries the share of the mining and quarrying industry is below 4 %, while the construction industry uses less than 3.4 %.

Water use in mining and quarrying

Data on water use in mining and quarrying are available for just a few countries. Germany, Poland, Turkey and Bulgaria report significant water use values of about 861 million m3, 56 million m3, 54 million m3 and 35 million m3 respectively. All countries are mainly supplied from self and other water supply sources, with the exception of the Netherlands. In terms of use in cubic meters per inhabitant, Germany registers the highest value (10.4 m3 per inhabitant; 2010 data) and Lithuania the lowest (0.2 m3 per inhabitant; 2011 data) (Table 3).

Water use in manufacturing industry

Self and other supply is the main water source in manufacturing industry (Table 4). Total water use ranges from 0.7 m3 per inhabitant (Hungary, 2011 data, only public water supply) to almost 456.8 m3 per inhabitant (Finland, 2011 data). Finland together with Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium recorded the highest water use per inhabitant. A decrease in water use can be seen after 2007, which may be due to both to the economic crisis (resulting in a reduction of production) and to the adoption of more water efficient technologies in industry.

In most countries, the main water-using industry is the ‘Manufacture of refined petroleum products, chemicals and chemical products’. However, the manufacture of basic metals is the main water-using industry in Latvia, Serbia and Turkey, water use for the manufacture of food products prevails in Malta and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, while the manufacture of paper and paper products is the main water-using industry in Slovenia and Sweden. The typical water use per inhabitant (median of country values), estimated from data available for 13 EU Member States, is (Figure 2, selected countries):

  • Manufacture of food products: 4.9 m3/inhabitant (min. 1.7 m3/inhabitant in Malta, max. 15.8 m3/inhabitant in the Netherlands);
  • Manufacture of textiles: 0.3 m3/inhabitant (min. 0.0 m3/inhabitant in Cyprus, max. 5.4 m3/inhabitant in Latvia);
  • Manufacture of paper and paper products: 3.0 m3/inhabitant (min. 0.0 m3/inhabitant in Malta and Cyprus, max. 180.6 m3/inhabitant in Finland);
  • Manufacture of refined petroleum products, chemicals and chemical products: 10.9 m3/inhabitant (min. 0.2 m3/inhabitant in Cyprus and Malta, max. 205.8 m3/inhabitant in Finland);
  • Manufacture of basic metals: 8.1 m3/inhabitant (min. 0.0 m3/inhabitant in Malta and Lithuania, max. 40.7 m3/inhabitant in Sweden);
  • Manufacture of motor vehicles, trailers, semi-trailers and of other transport equipment: 0.2 m3/ inhabitant (min. 0.0 m3/ inhabitant in Cyprus, max. 1.1 m3/ inhabitant in Sweden).

Water use in energy production

The share of energy production in total water use (for all NACE activities) ranges from 9 % (Turkey, 2010 data) to 95 % (Estonia, 2011 data). The energy sector is supplied with water from self-supply and other sources and the majority of water is used for cooling purposes (Table 5, Figure 3). In 2011, Cyprus reported a high amount of self-supply water use for cooling in energy production with 1 420 m3 per capita (2010 data), followed by Malta (1 198 m3), Estonia (1 149 m3), the Netherlands (584 m3, 2010 data) and Bulgaria (513 m3 per capita). The lowest per capita values were reported by the Czech Republic (65 m3), Lithuania (88 m3), Croatia (128 m3) and Spain (129 m3, 2010 data).

The share of water use for energy production over total water use also varied considerably. In 2011, the share in Estonia was 94 %, followed by Bulgaria (73 %), Belgium (67 %, 2009 data), the Netherlands (64 %, 2009 data) and Poland (63 %). By contrast, the lowest share was reported by Spain (21 %, 2009 data).

Water use in the construction industry

Water use in the construction industry (Table 6) is rather low compared with the other three main industrial sectors. Spain, Turkey and Norway have the highest water use from public water supply, while Poland has the highest water use from self and other water supply sources. The high water use value for Poland in 2005 is attributed to a large construction site (artificial lake) that was operating at that time. Per inhabitant water use ranges from 0.01 m3 (Germany, 2010 data) to 1.66 m3 (Czech Republic, 2008).

Intensity of water use in main industrial sectors

The intensity of water use in a particular economic sector is defined as the volume of water used per unit of gross value added (GVA) and measures the pressure of the economy on water resources in relation to its economic impact, a relevant indicator for sustainable development and resource efficiency policies. It can be used primarily for policies of water allocation among different sectors of the economy since in water-scarce regions, where there is competition for water between various uses, water is likely to be allocated to the less intensive use. The inverse of water use intensity is ‘water use productivity’ which measures the value added generated by one unit of water used.

Figure 4 presents the intensity of water use in manufacturing, in mining and quarrying and in construction. Manufacturing and mining and quarrying are obviously much more water intensive industries in terms of water use per value added than the construction industry. In manufacturing industry, Germany (202.8 m3 per thousand EUR, 2010 data) and Finland (90.7 m3 per thousand EUR, only self and other water supply, 2011 data) reported the highest values, reflecting heavy water requirements. The same applies in mining and quarrying, where the highest values are observed in Germany (159.1 m3 per thousand EUR, 2010 data) and Belgium (139.6 m3 per thousand EUR, 2009 data).

Much less water is needed to create a particular economic value in construction than in other industries. The highest values for the construction industry were recorded in Norway (2.7 m3 per thousand EUR, only public water supply, 2009 data) and the Czech Republic (1.8 m3 per thousand EUR, 2008 data).

Wastewater generation and discharge

Table 7 presents the volumes of wastewater generated in European countries for the reference year 2011. Wastewater generation has decreased in most countries with the exception of Romania (+14 % in 2011 compared with 2002). Among the main industrial sectors, manufacturing industry has the highest wastewater production in most countries, while energy production had the highest wastewater generation in Finland.

Data on industrial discharges are not available for all countries. Compared with 2007 values, a decrease in industrial discharges was noted in some countries (e.g. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Serbia) and an increase in others (e.g. Germany, Spain). The percentage of discharges treated (2011) ranged from 8 % (Croatia) to 60 % (Czech Republic) (Table 8).

Data sources and availability

Data on water use by industry are collected by Eurostat, as part of water statistics, through a joint OECD/Eurostat Questionnaire on Inland Waters. Data collected include water abstraction (volumes of water withdrawn from fresh surface water, fresh groundwater and non- fresh water sources by industry), supply (public vs self-supply), use (water that is actually used for industrial processing, excluding returned water and water losses) and discharge of wastewater for the following industrial sectors:

1. Mining and quarrying;

2. Manufacturing industry;

a. Food products
b. Textiles
c. Paper and paper products
d. Refined petroleum products, chemicals and chemical products
e. Basic metals
f. Motor vehicles, trailers, semi-trailers and other transport equipment
g. Other manufacturing

3. Production and distribution of electricity (including for cooling purposes);

4. Construction.

Data are available at three spatial levels (national, NUTS2 regions, and River Basin Districts). However it is difficult to derive EU averages or total values, as data are not available for all countries and regions.

Data on the industrial water use (as a total) can also be found in the databases of international institutions such as the FAO AQUASTAT database and the Pacific Institute’s ‘World’s water data’.


The European water policy, as manifested in the ‘Water Framework Directive’ (2000/60/EC), fosters the analysis of the pressures posed on water bodies by identifying and estimating: (i) water abstractions, and (ii) pollution from water use activities. Industry is one of the most intensive water users and therefore of particular interest.

Industrial water management is also one of the four areas for innovation specified in the European Innovation Partnership on water (EIP; COM(2012) 216 final), with the overall aims to: (i) increase water efficiency in production processes, and (ii) decrease pollution.

In 2010 the European Parliament and Council adopted the Directive 2010/75/EU on ‘Industrial emissions’ concerning integrated pollution prevention and control. Pollution control from the industry is also an objective of the ‘Blueprint to safeguard European water resources’ (COM(2012) 673 final) that sets a new strategy for water management in the European Union (EU).

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Water (t_env_wat)


Water (env_wat)

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

External links