Volvo Car Ghent reduces water consumption drastically

The Volvo Car factory in Ghent is strongly committed to sustainable water consumption, especially when rinsing cars. The company opts for a multi-layered approach: "In a first step, we reduce our dependence on water, then we also differentiate our water sources."

Volvo Car Ghent is one of Volvo's two European car plants and is located in the port of Ghent. The Belgian site includes a welding plant, a spraying plant and a final assembly department, including the recently built battery plant. A lot of water is used especially in the spraying plant. Volvo wants to make this even more sustainable.


“Volvo Car Gent has been strongly committed to raw material efficiency for several years now. That also includes sustainable water consumption," says environmental coordinator Wim Cooman. "As a car factory, we especially need a lot of water in the spraying department, where cars are given the required bodywork colour. We use it, for example, to condition the air in our spray booths, and to fill the pre-treatment baths."

"To get a better understanding of our water flows, we mapped our water balance with a Sankey diagram, which outlines the size of the different water flows in your processes. With this information, we were able to link water-saving measures to our process indicators."

Water savings through preventive maintenance

A first drastic measure entailed setting up a preventive cleaning programme for the demineralization plant linked to the pre-treatment process, says Cooman. "In the pre-treatment process, we use demineralized water (also known as demi water) to rinse cars that come out of the welding plant. We can recover most of the water used. If shortages occur due to evaporation or dragging along, we supplement them with externally prepared demi water." 

"We have already managed to reduce our water consumption by 12.5% through a mix of measures."
Wim Cooman, Environmental Coordinator

"However, a study has shown that the demineralization plant in question was not operating optimally and that its capacity was inadequate. As a result, we had to add large quantities of extra demi water. A preventive cleaning programme, together with a number of other actions, resulted in a saving of 12.5% or 110 litres per car produced. To put this into perspective, we use approximately 200,000 cubic metres of water annually, 130,000 cubic metres of which is demineralized process water. If we can save 12.5% on that, it's a great achievement."

Different water sources

Now that water consumption has been optimized, Volvo Car Ghent is investigating how it can reduce its dependence on mains water further by considering other water sources also. Cooman: "At the moment we discharge our industrial waste water into the surface water of the Sifferdok after extensive treatment. In the future, we want to upgrade that treated wastewater further to demineralized process water so that we can reuse it." 

"If we can supplement that reused wastewater with surface water from the Sifferdok, in time we will only need 70,000 cubic metres of mains water per year, instead of 200,000 cubic metres. We are now looking at the barriers we need to overcome and how we can work with contract partners and authorities on the regulatory framework. Our new water system should be operational by 2024.