COFCO International sets new target to help conserve water

With a new goal to achieve a 10% water efficiency improvement across its global industrial operations by 2025, the company stands to save at least 1.3 million m3 of water each year

Global agri-business COFCO International is today launching a new target to improve its industrial water efficiency by 10% by 2025. The target forms a key part of the company’s strategy to conserve natural resources and manage its environmental impact, and stands to save at least 1.3 million m3 of water each year. The new goal relates to the amount of water used per tonne of production, and as production steadily grows, the water savings are likely to be even greater.

“The growing global population is set to intensify pressure on natural resources, so it’s vital for companies like ours to leverage our ingenuity and expertise to save water,” says Wei Peng, Head of Sustainability, COFCO International. “In addition to engaging with our suppliers to promote water efficiency at field level, we have a real opportunity to reduce water use in our industrial operations, streamlining key processes to lower freshwater consumption as well as operational costs.”

Innovating to save water

The world’s industries represent nearly 20% of freshwater use, making industrial water efficiency improvements a critical part of water conservation. As the climate changes, intensifying pressure on freshwater supplies, companies must innovate to drive change.

To fulfil its new water efficiency target, COFCO International is taking an in-depth view of its global water use and prioritising initiatives that stand to deliver the greatest impact. In particular, this means systematically innovating to improve water efficiency where the company’s water consumption is greatest, including processing plants for sugarcane and oilseeds. At these industrial facilities, the company uses water for cleaning raw materials and extracting oil, as well as cooling and cleaning equipment. Steam is also critical to evaporation and heating within its oilseeds crushing and sugar production sites.

And progress is underway towards the new goal. At COFCO International’s Potirendaba sugar mill in the Sao Paulo state of Brazil, water efficiency innovation is already delivering positive results, and is set to deliver more water savings, as the initiative expands to two more sugar mills.

New vinasse concentrator under construction at COFCO International’s Catanduva sugar mill
New vinasse concentrator under construction at COFCO International’s Catanduva sugar mill

Looking ahead, the company also plans to optimise industrial processes for grains and oilseeds, focusing on effective, viable technologies. For example, its oilseeds crushing plants are exploring the possibility of heat exchangers to reduce steam consumption, which will in turn reduce water use and wastewater volumes. In advance of this transition, the company is measuring and understanding its consumption of steam at every step of the production process, in order to maximise efficiencies.

“Transforming the way our industrial facilities use water at a global level is a huge challenge and we’ll need all our teams to work together to make our new water efficiency target a reality,” says Dmitriy Denisenko: COFCO International’s Global Director of EHS and Asset Management. “Technology also plays a key role in this journey, and we’ll be collaborating with expert partners as we seek innovative solutions to reduce our water use and reuse and recycle water across our industrial facilities.”

For more information on COFCO International’s environmental commitments, please see its 2019 Sustainability Report, Action for Sustainable Agriculture.

Case studies

Sugar production: closing the water loop

When sugar is processed and distilled to produce ethanol, the resulting water-based by-product, known as vinasse, can be applied as a biological alternative to synthetic fertilisers. By concentrating and extracting water from vinasse at its Potirendaba sugar mill, COFCO International has been able to achieve greater efficiency at handling, transporting and applying such alternative fertiliser.

As the company steps up its water ambition, this approach is being extended to two more sugar mills in Catanduva and Sebastianópolis. At each site, COFCO International is installing vinasse concentrators as well as advanced wastewater treatment plants. This will enable treated wastewater to be fed back into the production cycle, further reducing freshwater needs. Once in operation by 2021, the company expects to gradually increase the volumes of reused water at its sugar mills, while reducing water use per tonne of production by up to 28%.

“We are committed to expanding water reuse and recycling efforts across our sugar operations,” says Luis Marcelo Spadotto, Operations Director of Sugar Division at COFCO International. “It’s thanks to the whole team and our partners here that this innovation is already delivering tangible impact on the ground.”