Foxconn cutting need for Great Lakes water with $30 million system

Water from manufacturing process to be recycled

Foxconn aerial June 2018

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:20 pm

Foxconn Technology Group plans to implement a zero liquid discharge system at its Mount Pleasant LCD manufacturing campus, cutting the amount of water it will need to draw from Lake Michigan by more than 50 percent.

Implementing the system requires a $30 million investment but means no water used in the manufacturing or industrial production process will be sent back to Lake Michigan through the Racine Water Utility. Instead, Foxconn will treat water onsite and reuse it in the same processes.

The company says the decision will cut its water intake from nearly 6 million gallons of water per day to 2.5 million gallons.

“One of the reasons we chose to locate in Wisconsin is the state’s pristine environment, and we take our responsibility to preserve it seriously,” said Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chief executive Terry Gou. “This system will be state-of-the-art technology to reduce the water our facility needs to operate by millions of gallons per day. We not only seek to comply with all regulations where we do business, we also work to exceed them when possible.”

Foxconn’s domestic water consumption in sinks, bathrooms and other applications will still return to the lake and a substantial amount will still be lost to evaporation through cooling processes.

There are few zero liquid discharge systems in use, particularly in the United States, but Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council, said Foxconn’s decision could demonstrate the potential of the technology.

“It is something we certainly have been advocating for, not just for Foxconn, this is something we believe is the future when it comes to water technology.”

He said particularly along ocean coasts a zero liquid discharge system offers an improvement over repeatedly going through a desalinization process to use salt water.

“This is going to have to be the trend across the entire world,” he said.

Foxconn adopted the same technology at its facility in Sakai, Japan. Woo pointed out there was no government requirement to reuse water, but “we always believed that was the right thing to do.”

Foxconn’s plans for its Mount Pleasant operations already included substantial recycling of water to reduce the demand for its manufacturing process from 20.6 million gallons per day to 3 million gallons. Asked if going even further in its water saving efforts would address concerns of some of the project’s critics, Woo acknowledged some may take issue with anything the company does.

“In that sense, I always say let’s not worry too much about what they say,” he said. “It’s kind of so be it, because certainly we believe that are are doing the right thing.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved a plan earlier this year for the City of Racine to divert up to 7 million gallons of water per day outside the Great Lakes Basin to serve the Foxconn plant and surrounding development.

An aerial photo of site preparation work at the Foxconn site in Mount Pleasant. (Photo by Curt Waltz of

The 2008 Great Lakes Compact generally bans diversions outside of the basin except in certain circumstances. In the case of Mount Pleasant, most of the village is actually within the basin, but the southwest portion is not. The subcontinental divide passes through the middle of the planned Foxconn campus.

Most of the diverted water – about 5.8 million gallons per day – was to be used by Foxconn, with 3 million gallons going toward manufacturing processes, 2.4 million toward cooling and 500,000 toward domestic use.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and River Alliance of Wisconsin filed a challenge to the diversion plan in May, arguing it violates the compact.

Attorneys for Midwest Environmental Advocates, which is representing the groups challenging the diversion, say diversions are allowed “solely for public water supply purposes” defined as a group of largely residential customers.

The DNR, however, says the public water supply requirement applies to the system distributing the water, in this case the City of Racine, meaning the diversion meets the requirements of the compact.

The department has accepted the groups’ petition for a contested case hearing, but a date for the hearing has not been set.

Foxconn’s decision to implement its zero liquid discharge system may be unlikely to alter the challenge to the diversion. Jodi Habush Sinykin, of counsel to Midwest Environmental Advocates, told reporters in May the challenge is about preserving the public supply criteria and the groups don’t necessarily object to the amount of water Racine is requesting.

“It’s not an inappropriate amount,” she said of the 7 million gallon figure.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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