Are we heading for a water shortage from electric cars?

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In Taiwan, water is scarce due to a severe drought. However, the demand for semiconductors is exploding while their production is very greedy in water. Thus, the democratization of electric cars in the world is not good news for water reserves.

The crucial question of water

Paul Buchwitz is portfolio manager and sustainable equity analyst for DWS in Germany. In a column published on March 22, 2021 in All news, he returned to the problematic situation of Taiwan, a large world manufacturer of semiconductors. It turns out that in 2020, no typhoon hit the country. This kind of climatic event obviously causes destruction, but at least has the merit of fill the water tanks part of the country.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has therefore already called on citizens to save water and prepare for shortages. However, these restrictions could be serious for the semiconductor industry, which consumes a lot of water. In addition, this industry is operating at full speed due to ever increasing global demand. Let us recall in passing that this country meets up to 10% of the global demand for chips and manufactures 70% of those intended for cars.

The manufacture of an electric car emits around 50% more CO2 than a thermal car. This is particularly linked to the extraction of metals for batteries such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, etc. However, we must not forget the astronomical amount of water used to manufacture these same batteries and especially the semiconductors which transform vehicles into rolling computers (electronics, sensors, etc.).

A worrying situation for the future

Let us remember all the same that no less than one hundred liters of water are needed to build a single chip. Indeed, the chips are cleaned at each step of the process. For Paul Buchwitz, the progressive scarcity of water “Threatens future technologies today for future growth”. He therefore considers that a more efficient hydraulic infrastructure, but also to intensify the economy and the treatment of water.

Credit: Jakub T. Jankiewicz / Flickr

In Taiwan, the situation is more than uncertain as shown by the daily newspaper of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s number one chip foundry. Every day this society consumes around 156,000 tonnes of water. Currently, the drought is such that TSMC uses tankers to deliver water. These actions are also causing great tension with local farmers.

Finally, “hydrogen” does not seem to be the solution. One liter of synthetic hydrogen fuel requires about 1.4 liters of water. In the case of a fuel obtained from “green” hydrogen, the quantity of water required can reach 70 liters per liter of fuel. Indeed, a large amount of water is necessary for the supply and maintenance of renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic panels.

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