Introduction from René Meuleman, Business Development Director CelSian Glass & Solar:
During my 43 years in the container glass industry, I have lived through countless little, innovative developments but only a small amount of game-changing innovations like oxy-fuel and NNPB [narrow neck press and blow]. Today, the whole industry is facing perhaps its biggest challenge of the century: becoming carbon neutral. We all have our thoughts and ideas on how to achieve this but we also know that the youngsters will need to do it. So let’s give them the podium! I am an old sock and I can only guide; people know my face – I don’t need the podium any more. That is why I asked two of our youngsters to put their thoughts to paper and I was amazed and inspired. We should all put our trust in the young ones; perhaps guide them but never tell them that it cannot be done; it has been done before as I am sure they will pull it off and make it happen. Be amazed like me and read their story to find out yourself.
Making a difference
Opinion from Ankith John Santosh and Hector Rodriguez-Carrera Iglesias (pictured):
Dr. Mathew Barlow, Professor of climate science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and co-author of the first working group section of the IPCC report says that the changes in our climate that we have seen so far can be attributed to a global warming of just about 1°C. He goes on to state that “limiting the warming to reach the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement [the legally binding international treaty on climate change] would require instant, rapid and a macro-scale reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Regardless of any specific temperature target, every single degree matters. Climate change is certain, serious, and now.”
Coming from backgrounds such as aerospace engineering and industrial design, which are far removed from that of a typical glass specialist, the impact of the glass industry with regard to emissions, and the roles, we, as young engineers play in today’s fight against climate change became very clear very quickly within our first few months. Working as a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Engineer and a Pre-Processor Specialist at CelSian, we see first-hand the impact that the glass industry has on emissions and climate change. From furnace design and refractory materials to batch materials and type/amount of fuel used and even the exhaust gas composition, CelSian allows us the opportunity optimise the glass manufacturing process and work directly on making a positive difference with every project. Additionally, we are given the chance to voice our opinions, play an integral part of designing new tools and com[e] up with solutions to future glass manufacturing problems. However, from speaking to our far more experienced colleagues, the realisation is that the same cannot be said about most of the glass industry.
Engaging the next generation
The question that ought to be asked is “WHY?” One main reason could be the fixation on the philosophy of “If it works don’t touch it” that seems to plague most of today’s manufacturing industry. One of the simplest yet best examples that highlight this is the production of the float glass ribbon. For many years, float glass was manufactured by drawing it upwards from a pool of molten glass and then cutting it; this resulted in glass with low quality and smoothness. It was only in 1957 that Sir Alastair Pilkington and Kenneth Bickerstaff developed the maiden commercial application for forming a continuous ribbon of glass by implementing a molten tin bath on which the molten glass could flow.
In a similar way, the upcoming generation of young engineers and managers are brimming with confidence backed by a sense of eagerness and are simply looking for an opportunity to make a difference. Furnaces of the future aim to be directly integrated with the engineering department and thus make a good fit for the up-and-coming generation. This generation is proficient at learning the ‘tricks of the trade’ together with a variety of software applications. By offering them a challenging yet rewarding career path to explore their individual potential and instilling in them a trust, by way of support from senior and experienced management could greatly benefit a company and the industry as whole. This sounds easy to include for a smaller or mid-sized company where a gumptious talent is identified and highly valued from the get-go. This does need to translate and bleed over to larger companies as the ramifications of making even the smallest of such improvements could have a larger pay-off in terms of cost and energy.
One perspective [on] climate change is as a consequence of technological advancement. Now unmistakeably, technology has been the single greatest democratising tool of society – comfort, health, transportation, access to knowledge and its distribution [has never been] easier and quicker, allowing us to impact lives in remote corners of our planet. The point that must be made though, is that this exponential growth also brings its own drawbacks. For instance, because of dramatic urbanisation and industrialisation over the last couple of decades, the building and construction sectors account for nearly 36% of the global energy consumption (largest contribution of any sector) and nearly 40% of CO2 emissions related to direct and indirect sources of energy. Although our capabilities for energy production have been steadily increasing, so has our energy demand.
The latest IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report states that changes to the climate [such as] continued sea level rise [will be] irreversible for centuries to millennia. Such immediate problems and issues require urgent technological solutions. Any progress in the wrong direction will have dramatic consequences – unsustainable wealth (defined as the incongruous integration of the economy of our present society and the ecology of our planet). The immediate impression is that our generation has accumulated so much more wealth than any other generation ever before and together with the widespread misinformation that has taken over mass media, scepticism seems to scream and appeal far more than scientific information. It’s time to make good technology and not just do more. A technological problem requires a technological solution.
This current situation that we find ourselves in has to be turned around and rather than having technology dictate our eventual fortune (i.e., fate), we ought to become ‘proxies’ that determine technological progress and the direction that it must head towards. Today, we see that information and technology are our rulers when instead they ought to be ruled over. This requires recognition of our flaws and the path[s] that lead us astray to finally tak[e] appropriate action.
Another point that needs to be addressed is the rate of depreciation of currently ‘smart’ or ‘new technology’. A study titled “Measurement of depreciation rate of technological knowledge: technology time approach” conducted in 20051 showed a gradual rate of 12% technical depreciation every three years. This obsolescence is attributed to changes in external circumstances, development of superior technologies and a reduction in the appropriability as it diffuses. Although we see governments and market leaders mobilise and make a push for change, the ‘ball’ only [starts] rolling when other parties also get involved and contribute. Instead, what we see is companies waiting for others to take the leap of faith when it comes to innovation and only then, after careful assessment, following suit. This occurs because of a company’s hesitation to take risks and make use of valuable resources. A collective push is the need of the hour.
Unfortunately, as was touched upon previously, we have run out of time to speculate, wait, watch and not take risks. We all need to come together to challenge the status quo and instead push for critical thinking, trusting the younger generation and providing them with ample opportunities to simply try. At the same time, it is the duty of the younger generation to instil confidence among their peers and showcase their abilities backed by evidence and a willingness to never give up.
Despite the conclusions of the IPCC report, which paint a dark picture of our future, we, the ‘young guns’ at CelSian believe that through persistence and perseverance, collectively, we, as human beings under immense pressure, will figure [out] a way to achieve our goals. After all, determination is the wake-up call to the human will.
1 “Measurement of depreciation rate of technological knowledge: Technology cycle time approach” Gwangman Park, Juneseuk Shin and Yongtae Park, Journal of Scientific & Industrial Research Vol. 65, February 2006, pp. 121–127