GW: What are the framework, goals and expectations for the NextGen project?
Our goal with the NextGen furnace is to significantly reduce CO2 emissions by replacing most of the gas energy with renewable electricity (a reference Life Cycle Analysis has recently been independently verified, showing an average of 69% reduced carbon emissions for a single container, compared with the previous oxy-gas fired furnace at Obernkirchen, Germany).
We are on target to be producing our first commercial, low-carbon bottles, with the same high quality, purity and recyclability as glass packaging from conventional furnaces, in Q4 2023.
In phase 2, the goal is for green hydrogen to replace the remaining natural gas (but is not yet planned).
GW: How influential do you expect NextGen to be in creating a long-term melting solution for glass packaging?
The glass packaging industry has made great strides in developing low-carbon technology over recent years, but a technological breakthrough has been needed to decarbonise the glassmaking process. The NextGen furnace technology has been developed to significantly reduce carbon emissions by using renewable electricity in place of natural gas.
Our plan is to use 80% renewable electricity plus 20% gas, with the goal to switch this to green hydrogen. We believe that this hybrid melting technology will create a long-term sustainable future for the industry.
Once proven, this technology is expected to be the new benchmark for energy-efficient furnace design.
GW: What will be the capabilities and unique characteristics of the furnace?
It was important when designing the NextGen furnace that, as well as being environmentally sustainable, it could meet the demands of the container glass industry. To achieve that, furnace technology has been turned on its head using new design innovations:
- Hybrid technology will switch the current energy mix used for glass melting: to 80% renewable electricity in the form of direct electrical heating via electrodes powered by renewable energy, and 20% gas, to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the furnace.
- We plan to use 70% recycled glass cullet (breaking the barrier of the maximum of 50% for all-electric furnaces), further reducing emissions, energy consumption and use of virgin raw materials.
- The furnace will initially produce amber glass – the most challenging glass colour to produce, and not yet commercially proven using electric heating. It will also be capable of producing other glass colours.
- A melting capacity of up to 350tpd, similar to conventional furnaces, but currently not possible for all-electric melting. Smaller scale electric furnaces already exist, but only produce special technical and flint glass, using a maximum of 50% recycled glass cullet, and producing much smaller quantities (a maximum of 200tpd), which can’t meet the demands of today’s high-volume container glass industry.
- Designed to use electrodes which allow up to 80% electrical melting, compared to a 30% limit in a conventional furnace design.
- The furnace is able to run between 20% and 80% electrical heating, facilitating starting up as a conventional furnace at 20% before ramping up to 80% to deliver maximum energy efficiency and decarbonisation.
GW: What was the motivation for adopting NextGen’s hybrid furnace concept and were other options investigated?
Our motivation has always been to reduce carbon emissions, which will make a significant step towards achieving Ardagh Group’s SBTi goal of 42% absolute reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030 (2020 baseline).
The Life Cycle Analysis shows an average reduction in carbon emissions of 69% per container produced in the NextGen furnace (when operating at 80% renewable electricity and 20% gas), compared to the previous oxy-gas fired furnace at Obernkirchen that this furnace replaces.
Many other options have been, and will continue to be, evaluated as we continue with our goal to decarbonise the glassmaking process.
GW: Historically, how do you measure the performance of the company in the area of furnace design and performance? Will NextGen raise expectations?
Ardagh Glass Packaging (AGP) has always considered and implemented more efficient furnaces and equipment with each rebuild and replacement; however, the framework of 80% natural gas and 20% electricity has not been challenged, until now.
GW: How well will NextGen fit within AGP’s sustainability goals?
The NextGen furnace is an important step in achieving Ardagh Group’s 2030 Sustainability Strategy emissions target because the hybrid technology will lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions, by as much as 60% in the furnace. NextGen is a key milestone in our journey towards decarbonisation.
GW: Why was your facility in Obernkirchen chosen for the NextGen installation?
Our AGP Obernkirchen facility was selected for a number of reasons: it is based in an area of Germany with electricity grid connection capacity, plus the existing oxygen generation capacity needed for the NextGen oxy-gas fired hybrid furnace technology.
It also has the potential for a renewable electricity supply, in the form of an off-site solar PV installation dedicated to the NextGen furnace, which is now in development. We are currently using 100% renewable electricity which, until the solar installation is ready, will mainly be supplied via PPAs.
Ardagh was also able to secure a grant for qualifying energy-intensive industries from [the] German government (BMWK and KEI), which has helped to realise this groundbreaking new technology.
GW: Considering the widespread locations of AGP manufacturing operations, is there potential for the NextGen technology to be introduced at other plants?
Our goal is to roll out NextGen technology throughout AGP’s operations. As each furnace reaches the end of its life, and needs to be replaced, we will select the best low-carbon furnace solution for the location, dependent on its infrastructure.
NextGen furnace technology requires a renewable electricity infrastructure and grid capacity for electric melting and hydrogen generation and will be the clear way forward where that infrastructure is available.
Infrastructure will be a critical consideration for the entire industry, as many locations currently do not have the necessary electrical grid capacity. This is where we urgently need government support along with access to hydrogen clusters and other renewable energy sources.
In areas that do not yet have the necessary infrastructure, other low-carbon options, such as the partly hydrogen-fired glass furnace at our facility in Limmared, Sweden, may be the best option.
GW: What were the main reasons for selecting SORG as your partner for the project?
AGP Europe issued a project tender for a hybrid furnace concept to different bidders. Following the tender procedure, technological discussions with the bidders, and careful consideration, SORG was chosen as the supplier for this hybrid furnace.
GW: What can you tell us about the next phases of the project and potential for the technology to evolve over time?
The next phase will be to optimise the furnace operation and evaluate the furnace technology, design and operation, which will guide and inform future evolution of the technology.
GW: In addition to NextGen’s contribution to reducing AGP’s carbon footprint, will the production capabilities offer possibilities to expand your product portfolio?
This project is entirely focused on transitioning the glass melting process for a lower carbon future; the product portfolio will remain unchanged, in that we will continue to remain focused on the production of glass packaging for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors.
GW: In general, what further improvements in terms of furnace design do you hope can be achieved by AGP?
We will validate and evaluate the NextGen furnace design, which is needed for further hybrid technology development.
GW: And finally, what can you tell us about other low carbon solutions that could be introduced in AGP operations in the future?
Our goal is to roll out NextGen technology throughout AGP’s operations, while other low carbon options, such as the partly hydrogen-fired furnace at our facility in Limmared may be the best option for those areas that do not have the necessary infrastructure yet.
All the low carbon solutions we are currently working on deliver more sustainable and efficient technology. For example, in our AGP Doncaster, UK facility, the new W1 furnace uses the latest technology to provide a more efficient melter with significantly reduced gas consumption and carbon emissions.
Image: An artist’s impression of the NextGen furnace + Martin Petersson (inset).