Categories: Glass
Published 14 Sep 2023

As the drive towards decarbonization intensifies, glass manufacturers are increasingly investing in all-electric furnaces. Still, as Oscar Verheijen of CelSian explains, several challenges remain before the industry can fully transition.

Natural gas has long been the lifeblood of the glass industry. However, it has also been its main source of CO2 emissions. With the world clearly moving toward carbon neutrality, this needs to change.

Oscar Verheijen is the chairman of the global R&D network GlassTrend and an R&D expert at CelSian, an independent engineering consultancy company that supports glass manufacturers in improving quality and efficiency in their production processes. His work shows a clear trend toward electrification of the glass melting process and the future use of hydrogen as a sustainable energy source.

Oscar Verheijen, chairman of GlassTrend and an R&D expert at CelSian.“The push is coming from both the private and public sectors,” he says. “Both governments and companies are committed to science-based targets to reduce emissions by 2030. This is impacting glass manufacturers through both stricter regulations and consumer pressure.”

The extent to which full electrification is already possible depends on the type of glass being manufactured. Processes for producing oxidized container glass and glass wool are relatively easy to electrify. For other glass types, such as reduced container glass and float glass, the option of using electricity is still being explored, leading to the development of hybrid furnace concepts applying both electric and combustion energy. “Depending on the furnace design, you can use a high amount of electricity,” he says. “In general, the main hurdle is not technological.”

The need for green energy

Even gray electricity is better than gas because of its superior energy efficiency, but you’re still emitting Scope 2 emissions.

Instead, the biggest challenge is the availability of reliable and cost-effective electricity, especially when it comes to renewable electric energy. “Even gray electricity is better than gas because of its superior energy efficiency, but you’re still emitting Scope 2 emissions,” Verheijen says. “To be truly sustainable and completely emissions-free, you need to use as much green electricity as possible.”

As it stands now, the infrastructure needs to be improved, especially as many energy-intensive industries plan to transition to electrification in the coming years. Then, there are questions over who is responsible for investing in and developing the required infrastructure.

“This makes it very difficult for glass manufacturers because if they’re planning on building any new furnaces in the next two years, they need to make decisions now,” says Oscar. “It’s difficult to do that when it’s unclear if the infrastructure will be available.”

The time to act is now

While 2030 is still some time away for many, it’s a deadline that already needs to be considered for glass manufacturers. “Any furnace being built today will be in operation for the next 10 or 15 years at least, so the choices you make now will have a big impact on its carbon footprint in the future.”

So, what should glass manufacturers be doing? “It’s important to follow all the developments in the industry and participate in those discussions to be ready to implement the best technology to decarbonize,” Verheijen says. “You should try to increase your knowledge level and identify potential partners and technologies you can work with in the future. Many companies will want to move towards increased electrification, so it’s good to be prepared.”