Fuel ethanol is considered to be a clean alternative fuel to meet increasing energy demands and mitigate environmental pollution. Faced with challenges in terms of energy security and environmental pollution, China is vigorously developing fuel ethanol. However, ethanol-manufacturing is a water-intensive industry; it consumes large volumes of fresh water and generates a corresponding amount of waste water. Expansion of this industry can reduce water quality and cause water stress. This study aims to combine the water footprint (WF) with a water pinch analysis technique to manage water consumption and sewage discharge systematically in an ethanol plant. A well-operated cassava ethanol plant in China was chosen as a case study. The WF of industrial ethanol production was evaluated. The total WF was 17.08 L/L ethanol, comprised of a 7.69 L blue water footprint (BWF), and a 9.39 L gray water footprint (GWF). The direct WF was 16.38 L/L ethanol, and the indirect WF was 0.70 L/L ethanol. Thereafter, a water pinch analysis was conducted, and the optimal direct water reuse scheme was studied. After the water network was optimized, the BWF was reduced by 0.98 L/L ethanol, while the GWF was reduced by 1.47 L/L ethanol. These results indicate that the combined use of WF and pinch analysis can provide the starch-based ethanol industry with an effective tool to improve its water management.
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