Making glass packaging fit for a carbon-neutral future
Few of us are unimpacted by today’s skyrocketing energy prices and inflation. While these challenges impact brands, retailers, and consumers alike, the collective impetus to reduce our carbon footprint remains strong. The container glass industry is no exception. You may have heard that container glass manufacturers across Europe have committed to achieving carbon-neutral production by 2050. But what kind of steps are they taking to get there?
Amid Europe’s energy price crisis, our latest live Q&A session looked beyond the problems of today to the future of carbon-neutral glass production. Adeline Farrelly (Secretary General of FEVE) was joined by Frédéric Rougevin Baville from Verescence, Frédéric Dupuis from Saverglass, and Ludovic Ferrand from ENGIE Lab CRIGEN to discuss the Vercane project, a joint French R&D programme forging the future of decarbonisation.
Missed the live session? Catch up on LinkedIn or read our event recap below.
The Vercane project puts collaboration at its core
It’s no secret that glassmaking has traditionally been an energy-intensive process, requiring high temperatures to melt the sand, soda ash, limestone and recycled glass needed to make new glass containers. But today, advances in furnace technology are paving the way to a future of carbon-neutral glass production.
To reduce glass packaging’s carbon footprint, players across the industry are coming together around ambitious shared solutions for a total phase-out of fossil fuels. The Furnaces for the Future vision is the industry’s shared ambition for a low-carbon future, set to cut direct furnace CO2 emissions by up to 60%. The Vercane R&D project is the latest example of this collective effort.
Counting on the expertise of glassmakers Saverglass and Verescence, furnace maker Fives, and global energy supplier ENGIE, the Vercane project looks to study a variety of carbon-neutral energy systems that could be compatible with the glass melting process.
There’s no one-size-fits-all decarbonisation solution
As part of the programme, the Vercane consortium explored three areas of research:
- Electric melting for a tonnage of 150 tonnes per day, offering an opportunity to use an existing Saverglass furnace and evaluate risks and financial impact.
- Hydrogen melting, allowing the group to determine the relationship between the percentage of hydrogen in the natural gas and the necessary underlying infrastructure to make it work.
- Biogas, where they already had a good understanding of the processes and constraints.
What are the CO2 emissions generated for each technology? How much glass can be melted to meet customer demand? And what about the technical and financial aspects of switching energy source?
Based on the research so far, one of the key learnings is that there’s no single answer to glass decarbonisation, and the massive energy transition the industry is embarking on must be resilient in the long-term. Not all glass manufacturing plants are created equal. Much as the container glass industry customises packaging options to customer needs, decarbonisation pathways need to be customised to the local reality of the areas where plants are located. The impact of new infrastructure and logistics, creation of new jobs and competences, operational and maintenance constraints and impact on the local environment all need to be taken into account.
“We can achieve very low CO2 emissions, and that’s not a dream in the long run” – Ludovic Ferrand, ENGIE
Energy transition is nothing new for the container glass industry
Europe’s energy crisis has only sharpened the industry’s resolve to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The Vercane programme’s findings are set to spur on the container glass industry’s ongoing transition to greener energy – an energy transition that wouldn’t be the industry’s first. Glass making counts on 5,000 years of heritage, and already, glass melting has moved from wood to coal to oil before turning to gas. Low-carbon and renewable energy sources are the industry’s next stop.
2050 is only two furnaces away, and today, we’re seeing a wide range of innovative approaches to decarbonisation across the container glass industry. As part of this vision, manufacturers are investing in and deploying innovative furnace technology powered by biomass, hydrogen, and electrification.
“Yes, we’re facing an energy crisis. But for us it’s just a bump in the road. Our target stays the same: CO2 reduction” – Frédéric Rougevin Baville, Verescence
The Vercane project’s early findings are good news for these efforts. They support the Furnace for the Future vision by confirming that low-carbon glass production is possible, and there’s a range of pathways to get there. That’s why cross-industry partnership is crucial: a clear methodology backed by wide-ranging impact studies provides a roadmap for other companies to push forward their own decarbonization strategy, in the industry and beyond.
But beyond the industry itself, it’s also good news for the brands and retailers that will continue to rely on glass packaging in the decades to come. After all, the lower glass packaging’s carbon footprint, the lower their scope 3 emissions. That’s how the industry and its customers will continue to work hand in hand to supply the packaging we all rely on, now and for generations to come.
Did you learn anything about what decarbonisation looks like for the container glass industry? How do you see the future of glass packaging production? Which pathway to decarbonisation are you most interested by? Head over to LinkedIn and let us know!
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