In a bid to work towards carbon neutrality for the glassmaking industry, European glass federation FEVE and select member companies are developing the Furnace of the Future, described as the world’s first large-scale hybrid oxy-fuel* electric furnace powered by 80% renewable sources. We spoke with FEVE secretary general Adeline Farrelly about this ambitious initiative.
The electrically powered Furnace of the Future, a pilot project debuted some two years ago, is an industry initiative led by 20 companies, with FEVE as the facilitator. “The project was the fruit of numerous discussions the industry has been having around sustainability over recent years,” FEVE’s Farrelly tells Luxe Packaging Insight.
As of today, the furnace is being conceived with three primary objectives: to create a large-scale capacity electric furnace, one able to process high levels of recycled glass and produce colored glass. It will have a capacity of 300 tons per day, which, according to FEVE, will reduce carbon emissions by 50% compared to fossil fuel-powered furnaces. “Given that most CO2 emissions come from the glass-melting process, we needed to look at the alternatives. Electrification is one pathway, but currently this only works for furnaces of around 100 tons, not for 300 ton-plus furnaces,” explains Farrelly.
Today’s electric furnaces are also unable to process large quantities of recycled glass. “With an open flame, it’s easier to re-melt glass, but when using electric rods it’s more of a challenge. In other words, sand is easier to melt in an electric furnace than cullet.” Given that carbon emissions are reduced by 5% as a result of using 10% recycled glass, the benefit of having a large-scale electric furnace able to work with high levels of recycled glass is obvious,” she adds.
In addition, the Furnace of the Future is being developed to produce colored glass, a major step given that electric furnaces today only work with flint (clear) glass.
A steering committee that brings together engineers from the participating glassmakers has been set up, while numerous exchanges with furnace suppliers are addressing why large-scale electric furnaces have failed in the past.
FEVE member Ardagh Group has offered to house the furnace at its site in Germany (the Furnace of the Future is a rebuild, not a new build) with completion slated for 2022.
When it comes to funding the initiative, participating glassmakers will invest up to 40% in the furnace to cover basic costs. FEVE is hoping to get the remaining 60% (additional costs) from the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) Finance for Innovation Fund. The federation estimates that the additional capital operational expenditure of a hybrid furnace compared to a conventional furnace will cost €30m to €40m over about 10 years.
This project is also of utmost importance, according to FEVE, as it marks the first time that the European glass industry is collaborating to meet such an important challenge. “This is quite a feat as these companies are all competitors. However, they see the added value and are very proud of the project.”
Yet Farrelly warns that the project is also dependent on the energy landscape: “We’re pioneering this innovation, but only a cross-sector, European-wide approach to green energy sources will allow us to reach a carbon-neutral business model in the years to come”.
In addition to Ardagh Group, the glassmakers that have signed on to Furnace of the Future project include Bormioli Luigi, Groupe Pochet, Verescence, Saverglass, Stoelzle, O-I, Hrastnik 1860, Verallia, Gruppo Zignago Vetro (owner of Verreries Brosse) and Gerresheimer.
*Oxy-fuel combustion burns pure oxygen rather than air, which allows the furnace to reach higher flame temperatures.
FEVE is a Brussels-based federation of companies that produce glass packaging for all sectors: food & beverage, pharmaceuticals and fragrance & cosmetics.