FEVE’s ‘Furnace for the Future’ project has recently been elected to Stage 2 of EU funding. Adeline Farrelly* explains what that means, what happens next and what it means for the future of the container glass industry.

On 24th March 2021, the EU Commission published their short list of projects invited to enter the second-round application process for funding from the EU’s new ETS Innovation Fund. The container glass industry’s Furnace for the Future (F4F) was one of the selected projects.

“We are so proud to be on the list and to get to the next stage,” says Fabrice Rivet, FEVE’s Technical Director.

“The evaluators gave us very positive feedback, which is very encouraging, as we now prepare the full application for the 23rd June 2021 deadline”.

The Innovation Fund is one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies.

A total of 311 projects were submitted in the first round for grants totalling €21 billion making the ETS fund 21 times oversubscribed.

Furnace for the Future is one of the 70 projects selected to go forward to the final phase.

Industry ambition

By 2050 the container glass industry aims to achieve a major revolution, starting now, in the way glass is produced making it fit for a circular and climate-neutral economy.

Companies are gearing up to secure the future of the sector and the jobs that depend on the industry within important value chains (food and beverage, pharma, cosmetics, and perfumery).

The F4F is a collective industry demonstration project, technically and financially supported by 19 container glass companies, which will develop a break-through technology to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from container glass furnaces by replacing 80% of the currently used natural gas by renewable electricity.

It will be the world’s first large-scale 350 tonnes/day hybrid electric furnace to overcome existing technological barriers, capable of melting all glass colours and incorporating high levels of recycled glass.

With this new hybrid technology, container glass will be able to cut 50% of current CO2 emissions from the factories. (See Table 1 below)

Solving the carbon emissions will enable the sector to offer a fully climate-neutral packaging solution, in addition to being fully circular.

At present, 80% of container glass CO2 emissions come from the combustion of natural gas to melt glass and Furnace for the Future is addressing this head on. But there is also the 20% of CO2 emissions from the virgin raw materials used to make glass.

Circular economy – Closing the loop

A different strategy is needed to eliminate this remaining 20%. Addressing these emissions involves replacing virgin raw materials with recycled glass (cullet). Closing the glass recycling loop is therefore a primary objective.

The industry will do this by increasing EU collection of recyclable glass from 76% to 90% and make the Circular Economy for glass work better.

To this end, the container glass sector launched ‘Close the Glass Loop’ in 2020 – a multi-stakeholder platform to unite the glass collection and recycling value chain, and to establish a material stewardship programme that will result in more bottle-to-bottle recycling.

This platform brings together all those involved in the collection schemes to achieve 90% collection of recyclable glass by 2030. Close the Glass Loop action plans are being developed at EU level and in several countries.

Company decarbonisation strategies

While these flagship sector decarbonisation initiatives are hugely significant, FEVE members are also testing out other strategies at company level.

A revolutionary project undertaken by glass container manufacturer, Encirc (a Vidrala company), and industry research and technology organisation, Glass Futures, is testing whether new bottles are able to be made from 100% recycled glass, using only the energy from burning ultra-low-carbon biofuels.

German glass makers are working with BV Glas to investigate hydrogen as a potential fuel source for melting glass and to see what extent it could work off the natural gas infrastructures already in place.

According to BV Glas, hydrogen is one of the most promising candidates in the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. It has been assessing the potential of hydrogen for a long time within the framework of its decarbonisation strategy.

“Every climate-neutral production project is an important step towards new approaches in glass manufacturing that will help us achieve the long-term aim of net-zero industrial emissions” says Dr Johann Overath BV Glas Director General.

If all energy-dependent processes were switched over to hydrogen, the glass industry could theoretically reduce its carbon footprint in Germany by approximately 3.3 million tonnes per year.

The European glass industry is investing significantly every year in the decarbonisation of its manufacturing processes (e.g. R&D in hydrogen-firing, energy efficiency measures, use of biomass etc.) and will continue investing to manufacture glass products fit for a resource-efficient, low-carbon European society.

Every year, on average, the industry invests €610 million for plant upgrades, better energy efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions. This is a significant 10% of production costs each year.

What’s next?

In the near term, the container glass industry is potentially one of the energy intensive industries to have a clear pathway to decarbonisation through direct electrification, but requires breakthrough technology in the Furnace for the Future project.

The Commission intends to evaluate the proposals and award the grants in October/November 2021.

If F4F is successful, the commercial scale demonstration plant will be built by Ardagh Group in Germany in 2022 with the first low carbon commercial bottles being produced in 2023.

A Special Project Vehicle will be incorporated for this project where industry shareholders will co-finance this demonstration project in addition to the EU grant.

Against this industry investment, all the learnings and know-how of running this furnace will be shared among the SPV partners so that this technology can be rolled out and scalable throughout the sector.

There are risks with any new technology and it is not certain that it will succeed. If it does, then this will be one of the most significant breakthrough technologies for glass and represents an iconic moment in the long history and tradition of glass making in Europe.

The 19 independent companies and FEVE operating in partnership to create, fund and demonstrate a technology to prove the concept are: See table 2 below.