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Week of 18 December 2023: Conserving Water

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As you have probably noticed by now, I have taken a bit of a cynical view in this power and energy month here at Nip Impressions. I tend to do this when secular subjects become so widespread and accepted as the whole truth, all other theories be damned. Experience and logic tell me that such widespread, cult like belief must have a few cracks somewhere and those cracks must be explored. Thus, I will continue down this path this week and next.

The Light Green Machine Institute has taken on water conservation and mill water closeup as one of its cornerstone projects for 2024. If you are interested in joining this effort, contact me for information. This is not the cynical part of this column--responsible water usage by pulp and paper mills is an important stewardship and economic goal for any mill and the Institute thinks it has some fresh (no pun intended) ideas.

Now for the cynical part. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, 6 Dec 23, in an article titled, "Bitcoin Mining Used More Water Than New York City Last Year," author Eric Niller lays out the case.

Niller reports that the peer reviewed journal "Cell Reports Sustainability" says the annual footprint of water used for air-conditioning, water-cooled computers and other activities related to bitcoin mining is estimated at 591 billion gallons this year.

At a reasonable 7,500 gallons consumption per short ton, that would be the water needed to produce about 79 million tons of paper. My cynicism is justified. And I haven't even brought in the government mandated low flow toilets and shower heads we tolerate in the name of water conservation (out of scope for this column).

I can't even explain bitcoin, but I'll bet I could sit down with pencil and paper and draw you a 95% accurate flowsheet of any pulp or paper process.

But there is another lesson here for us papermakers. We should do the right thing, no matter what others do. This is the moral high road. It is also the correct economic path. Using less water in pup and paper manufacturing is just the right thing to do.

I recall back about 1981 in a mill that shall remain nameless, we used about 21,000 gallons per ton to make fine paper. In those days we did not know any better and that number has come down since then. The 7,500-gallon number I cited above no doubt is received differently by different readers--some of you think it is too high, some think it is too low. Another reason to join the Light Green Machine Institute and help establish what the state-of-the-art number should be today.

Be safe and we'll talk next week.



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