As major parts of the world get on top of the nasty Covid-19 pandemic, we can start to think about getting back to normal and being ready for the next quest ahead of us: the decarbonisation of our glass industry.
Some of us are already studying possible options and recently ‘The Furnace for the Future’ project was selected for the second stage of EU funding for being part of a ‘climate-neutral Circular Economy’. The Furnace for the Future (F4F) project is a breakthrough technology, which FEVE [the Federation of European manufacturers of glass containers] says will enable the industry to switch to renewable electricity and cut CO2 emissions by up to 60% in the furnace (50% for the whole factory).
That alone is great news so let’s all cross our fingers that this initiative will be allowed to move into the execution stage soon.
Projects like this will support glass as a unique packaging material to become carbon-neutral. At the same time flat glass manufacturers, the German GWI (Gas, Wärme Institut), Glass Futures and others have started to look into hydrogen firing in glass furnaces.
GlassTrend (the consortium of worldwide operating industries and instituted working in the field of glass and glass production) is investigating both electrical heating as well as hydrogen firing and a combination of both.
Much research is needed to understand the impact of stepping away from fossil fuel and it starts to become clear that, most probably, we will end up using a mix of green electricity, hydrogen and perhaps bio-fuels. The ratios between these three energy sources will be influenced by local circumstances such as obtainability of the energy sources, grid availability, emission taxes and energy price levels. The speed at which the change-overs will happen will depend also on OpEx, CapEx, the market and the speed at which glass manufacturers are able to adapt.
Involving CelSian experts in the very early stage of the project can help to substantially decrease the potential level of risk involved in a newly designed furnace, and will also provide important insights into what is possible and what is impossible with the given size and construction limitations.
In other words; CelSian as well as GlassTrend projects can help you to rule out risks and contribute to making your furnace designs operational and energy efficient.
New designs, materials and methods
The glass industry used to build furnaces to last for as long as possible and existing furnace designs are a result of many years of development. The industry has already come a long way: the increase of energy efficiency and furnace lifetime over the last 50 years has been outstanding. However, we realise that we will have to step away from many of the optimised designs and look for new designs that are more suitable to run using electrical power and/or green, alternative fuels. Apart from new furnace designs, we must also look into new refractory materials, alternative batch compositions and new control algorithms to control the melting process.
Most probably we need to start educating people to get used to mega-watts of electrical power, handling oxygen, biogas, and hydrogen, maintenance of the new systems and to understand the impact they will have on throughput and glass quality.
Is this similar to the challenge the industry faced at the introduction of the Pilkington float glass process and NNPB (narrow neck press and blow bottle forming) processes and the introduction of the regenerative end and side port furnaces? Perhaps, but our employees and technology have also made much progress and the level of understanding we have today is very different from what we knew 40 years ago.
Modelling tools and controls
State-of-the-art modelling tools like CelSian’s GTM-X allow us to study designs and how they operate long before the first brick is laid. The models reduce much of the risks involved in new, not-yet-built furnace designs and provide a solid foundation of trust before investing. We can start to train operators by using simulators as the furnace is built, simulating how the actual furnace will react even if it doesn’t physically exist yet.
Once in operation, we provide rMPC (rigorous Model Predictive Control) applications to run the furnace smoothly and get it up to speed as soon as possible. In the – hopefully unlikely – event of glass defects, the model can also assist us to investigate the root cause of the defect and will help the plant to solve the problem within days, perhaps less time.
Many challenges are ahead of us but combining your and our competencies, together we can rule out many question marks upfront, avoid potential design flaws and support you to get a new design quickly and successfully up and running. We all know: ‘failure is not an option’; not for you, not for us, and not for the sake of the whole glass industry and our planet.
Let’s find out how we can face the challenges that are in front of us together, successfully.
Take care and stay safe.
*Quote by Albert Einstein
Image: Using its GTM-X simulation software, CelSian can assess furnace energy consumption and adapt the design, process settings or batch/glass composition to reduce CO2 emissions and maximise energy efficiency ‘long before the first brick is laid.’