The green future of glass furnaces

Stimulated by increasing demand from customers for lower-carbon packaging solutions, the glass industry is piloting projects that will test the viability and cost of renewable-powered furnaces.

Through initiatives such as lightweighting (see our cover story) and optimisation of processes, Consol has achieved a steady incremental reduction in our carbon footprint over the past 15 years. Net-zero commitments being made by various governments and customers will require a paradigm shift in the way glass is melted and could herald a step change in the decarbonisation of the industry. A new breed of furnaces is being designed to run on a greater ratio of renewable-energy-derived electricity, greener gases such as biofuels or hydrogen, or most likely a hybrid of several technologies. Given the commitment of governments and customers to zero-carbon solutions, this could usher in a future of zero-carbon glass.

The F4F project

In Europe an ambitious project is taking shape. A coalition of 19 independent companies representing over 90% of the total glass container production in Europe, and led by glass manufacturer Ardagh Group, has co-financed the construction of the “Furnace for the Future” (F4F).

The F4F is a large-scale, 350 tonnes/day hybrid electric furnace, able to melt reduced glass together with high levels of recycled glass. The F4F will cut direct furnace carbon dioxide emissions by 60%, and those of the whole facility by 50%, with the potential to exceed those numbers through future upgrades.

The F4F will be able to operate on a commercial basis to test both technical and market efficiency. Construction of the project is expected to take place by 2022, with first glass produced in 2023. The F4F was selected in March 2021 to progress to the second phase of the EU Innovation Fund, one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the demonstration of innovative, low-carbon technologies.

“The world’s most sustainable glass bottles”

Glass container producer Encirc, which has sites in England, Northern Ireland and Italy, alongside industry research and technology organisation Glass Futures, conducted trials in 2021 which are planned to result in “the world’s most sustainable glass bottles”. The bottles will be made entirely from recycled glass, and by using ultra-low-carbon biofuels to fuel the furnace.

The project forms part of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Energy Innovation Programme, to help determine the most effective route to switch the glass sector to low-carbon fuels.

Zero-carbon glass in South Africa

Consol is among the few glass manufacturers in the world with proven expertise in running all-electric furnaces for commercial production of a range of bottles in various colours. The traditionally limited availability of natural gas in South Africa meant that several Consol furnaces ran wholly on electricity in the past.

The future of zero-carbon glass in South Africa is, however, dependent on the broader renewable energy discussion in the country, and the appetite from customers to support the effort. Consol is currently looking at the feasibility of building a pilot facility that would produce 100% zero-carbon glass within the next few years.

Once sufficient renewable energy is available and suitable energy-storage solutions are in place, zero-carbon glass is a viable model, and one which Consol is uniquely positioned to take advantage of.

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