Glass packaging industry switches to electricity, increasing demand for renewable energy –


Unlike the steel and cement industry, the glass industry has a clear path towards the decarbonization of its processes: electrification. Yet renewable electricity is rarer than industry would like, raising concerns about its ability to meet EU climate targets.

The glass packaging industry has a high recycling rate of over 70%. It now wants to switch its gas boilers to electricity in order to achieve the EU’s decarbonisation targets by 2030, by supplying them with a mix of 80% electricity and 20% gas in the project. pilot “Oven of the future”.

Recycling, although less energy intensive than producing glass packaging, is nonetheless energy intensive. Until now, the energy used has been based on fossil fuels, which makes recycling and the production of glass packaging in general less environmentally friendly than is often thought.

As a result, annual emissions from the glass container industry are estimated to be around 8-9 million tonnes of CO2 per year, according to a senior spokesperson for FEVE, the European container industry body. glass.

This represents over 1% of EU-27 industrial emissions, a significant share.

Faced with the pressure of decarbonization, the glass packaging industry has joined forces to electrify its processes with the “Four of the Future” (F4F) joint venture. The aim is to build a proof-of-concept furnace in Germany where a multinational glass company, the Ardagh group, is in charge of building the new plant.

Ardagh Group declined to comment on the state of construction.

The project aims to build a furnace by 2023 that uses electricity to melt glass of all sizes and colors at reasonable prices, while being twice as energy efficient as traditional fossil fuel furnaces.

“We want to demonstrate that fusion with 80% electricity is feasible. This is the objective, ”said Fabrice Rivet, technical director of FEVE.

For technical reasons, the first generation of electric ovens is obliged to derive 20% of its energy from gas. “For the second generation, we’ll definitely see how to replace the 20% natural gas still needed to bring some heat on top of the cast iron,” Rivet said.

To do this, he said, the industry is considering options such as electric radiative heat, hydrogen or biogas for the second generation of electric furnaces, the development of which is expected to begin in 2027.

If the initial pilot project goes as planned, then the model could be quickly replicated in the packaging glass industry, allowing manufacturers to reduce their emissions by 50% at all factories.

However, the high costs of research and electricity are holding back the industry, which has requested public support.

The F4F project hopes to tap into the EU’s Innovation Fund, where it is currently in the second stage of the selection process to secure a share of around € 20 billion in grants.

The huge renewable energy bottleneck

But while the industry’s new electric furnaces will be more energy efficient than their fossil-fueled predecessors, their decarbonization effect is also highly dependent on the availability of renewable electricity.

About 20% of German electricity comes from coal, and the industry is considering green power purchase agreements to ensure sufficient amounts of renewable energy in the future.

Yet the glass industry’s shift to renewables is also exacerbating an issue that has already raised concern in other energy-intensive industries: the slow expansion of renewable electricity in the face of increased demand.

As the electrification of the economy progresses, reaching new sectors like transportation, construction and industry, the demand for clean electricity is increasing.

In Germany, electricity demand is expected to reach 700 billion kWh by the end of the decade, according to industry experts, up from 567.6 billion kWh in 2019.

A rapid increase in renewable electricity capacity is therefore necessary, otherwise the supply of renewable energy will soon become a bottleneck in other sectors such as the production of green hydrogen, warned Ulrik Stridbæk of the energy company. Danish Ørsted.

“The European Union really needs to move up a gear, especially since we still need to double the current capacity of renewable energies by 2030 in order to achieve the 55% GHG target set out in the climate law of the EU, “warned Michaela Holl of Agora Energiewende, a Char-thinker.

These add to the image of an energy market constrained by massive demand for renewables in the coming decades, unless the construction of additional wind and solar capacity accelerates significantly.

According to Holl, this should provide more incentive for EU countries and private investors to develop renewable energy production capacities as quickly as possible.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]


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