An intriguing conversation with a container glass manufacturing customer led to discussions between Eurotherm colleagues on the possibility of zero carbon glass manufacturing. According to René Meuleman, most of these conversations took place after work in an English pub over a pint of beer, a good place to brainstorm and discuss the latest technologies, while watching CO2 bubbles escaping from the glasses!
For glassmakers, CO2-free glass manufacturing means the possibility of moving to all-electric heating and as a supplier of electrical furnace boosting power supplies, Eurotherm has an obvious interest. There is a widely held opinion that, although all-electric heating is perceived as being expensive, that may not be the case when all aspects are taken into account. On the other hand, all-electric heating is not necessarily CO2-free.
Centralising electrical power generation in case carbon capture technology develops could be an advantage but instead, energy generation companies seem to be moving in another direction, using more sustainable resources, at least until the recent drop in fossil fuel prices. It seems that the development of sustainable power is slowing down and CO2-free glass might be further away than ever.
The glass industry itself needs to accept that production will have to change sooner or later anyway and ‘all electric’ might turn out to be the only alternative. If all glassmakers stay in their usual ‘let the others try first’ mode, nothing much will happen until they are affected by the world running out of fossil fuel or, more likely, they are hit with a serious government measure to reduce CO2 emissions after a global warming-related incident. Remember how suddenly Germany stepped away from nuclear power generation after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The world cannot do without glass and if it is realised that plastic packaging may be harmful to health, glass will likely become the only decent food packaging material available. It is still a mystery why children are fed from plastic bottles when adults prefer to drink beer out of glass bottles, even though borosilicate baby bottles exist. In that respect, the industry has an obligation to look for greener methods to produce glass and introduce them as soon as possible.
Smaller all-electric melters could become very attractive. No expensive upper structures, no ports or regenerators, only a well-designed refractory tank, preferably cold top and an electrical heating system. Each IS machine could have its own furnace, perhaps even a tiny melter on top of each section? One small unit melter could do the job for one or two glassfibre bushing positions. Most glass manufacturers are still using the same melting methods developed over 50 years ago with only minor modifications. Those who dare to think differently will overtake those who sit and wait for others to try.
CO2-free glass is the future, sooner or later and one way or another. Why not make a start today to work together and investigate? Manufacturers should at least think about it, even if it sounds ridiculous to them today.