The major environmental impact of glass production is caused by atmospheric emissions from melting activities.
- The combustion of natural gas and the decomposition of raw materials during the melting leads to the emission of CO2. This is the only greenhouse gas emitted during the glass production.
- Sulphur dioxide (SO2) from decomposition of sulphate in the batch materials can contribute to acidification.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx) due to the high melting temperatures, and in some cases due to decomposition of nitrogen compounds in the batch materials, also contribute to acidification and formation of smog.
- Evaporation from the molten glass and raw materials can cause a release of particles into the atmosphere.
A continuous decrease of specific energy required to melt glass
Practically most of the direct CO2 emissions in AGC Glass Europe comes from melting activities. Some 75% of the CO2 emissions from the furnaces are energy-related, with the remaining 25% caused by decomposition of raw materials.
Fig. 6 shows that today the amount of energy required to produce 1 tonne of flat glass is only 10% of what it was 100 years ago. (Index: Year 1880 )
This long journey to optimise the manufacturing of flat glass is quite outstanding, looking back at improvements achieved since the 19th century.
A reduction of 30% in direct emissions in the last 30 years
Furthermore, watching only the last 30 years, our direct emissions decreased by around 30% between 1990 and 2020. This reduction was the result of the combined effect of improvements in furnace's efficiency and the replacement of heavy oil by less impactful natural gas. Recycling of cullet also helped to reduce CO2 emissions by saving raw materials and energy for melting. Roughly speaking, an additional 10% of melted glass coming from cullet will allow to decrease melting energy by 2%
The challenge of reducing another 30% direct emissions by 2030
While these historical factors attest to the feasibility of the 2030 objectives set within the glass industry, they also show the difficulty of achieving them. The 30% decrease must be achieved not in 30 years but in less than a decade. Moreover, this involves not only direct emissions but all embodied carbon, and lastly, previous approaches can no longer be used, since glass melting furnace are now all powered by natural gas. Incremental improvements in furnace efficiency are no longer possible; instead, technological breakthroughs are needed.
Required breakthrough technologies
One of the most promising furnaces is powered by a unique system called ‘hot oxycombustion’, using oxygen for combustion instead of air and reuses heat from flue gases to preheat the natural gas before it is injected into the furnace. The furnace in Boussois (France) was the first float furnace in Europe to operate fully on the hot oxycombustion process and the first in the world to have the natural gas and oxygen preheated. This furnace has proven to be the most ecological float furnace in the world.
Another very promising technology that requires also technological breakthrough is electro-melting. While limited percentage of electrical melting is not new (generally called electro-boosting), a significant percentage of melting energy from electricity cannot be reached today because of the strict quality requirements for float, and such a progress requires a major technological breakthrough. AGC and Saint-Gobain have announced in February 2023 they will be collaborating on a project to this end (read press release).
Use of Hydrogen in substitution of natural gas, carbon capture and storage or use (CCS/CCU) are other potential technics which require technological breakthroughs and which are currently evaluated or tested.
Other air emissions
As already mentioned, a main environmental objective is to further reduce emissions of dust, acidifying pollutants, and CO2. Tackling these in an integrated way is a complex matter, as most reduction technologies have disadvantages as well as advantages in terms of efficiency, glass quality, yield, cross-media effects etc.
Under the terms of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED 2010/75/EU) a current valid Glass BAT (Best Available Techniques) reference document has been published (2012/134/EU March 2012). This document describes the environmental techniques applicable to the glass industry together with their advantages and disadvantages and associated emission limit values. http://eippcb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/reference/gls.html
Recycling DeSOx waste as raw material
The DeSOx not only reduces air emissions but also produces large quantities of by-products, mainly sulphates, resulting from desulphurisation of the flue gas. To avoid transferring, the pollution from the air to landfill, AGC Glass Europe favours recycling these sulphates wherever possible as raw material for the glass production.
More on our decarbonisation journey
Our carbon footprint
As part of AGC Glass Europe’s strategy and its environmental target for 2030, the carbon footprint is assessed on a yearly basis. By following the main principles and the standardized framework of the Green House Gas Protocol, we report and account for our corporate GHG emissions across our entire value chain.
Our roadmap to carbon neutrality
AGC's holistic approach to achieve CO2-neutral glass production by 2050, not only includes decarbonising the glass production processes but also eliminating all CO2 emissions from the supply chain upstream of our processes and other indirect emissions.
Using highly efficient melting furnaces
AGC is engaged in a major transformation of the tank technology. The two steps electrification innovation, electro-boosting and then hybrid melting, is a major technology breakthrough.