A fuel made from organic waste materials powered the St Helens glass manufacturer’s furnace for four days, creating 165,000 sq ft of “the lowest carbon float glass ever made”. The fuel emits approximately 80% less CO2 than traditional natural gas used in the sector, Pilkington said.
The company is running trials to find sustainable alternatives to natural gas. It is part of a £7.1m project led by industry research and technology organisation Glass Futures, working under the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s energy innovation programme. It aims to demonstrate that the furnace could run at full production on the low-carbon fuel without impacting product quality.
Pilkington UK managing director Neil Syder said: “Our world-first trial with Glass Futures proves how biofuel presents a realistic low-carbon alternative to natural gas, which will allow manufacturers to cut thousands of tonnes of CO2 from their production years ahead of alternative zero-carbon options becoming more readily available.
“Last summer, we became the first glass manufacturer in the world to fire a furnace with hydrogen, which represented a major step forward towards our future as a net-zero industry. But a significant body of work remains before hydrogen and electrification become feasible alternatives to natural gas for glassmakers, making biofuels an important transitionary fuel.
“The success of this trial is also important for the many sectors that rely on glass as an integral supply chain material. We’re now far closer to glass with less embodied carbon being accessible, which will help developers to create a more sustainable built environment.”
Glass Futures general manager Aston Fuller said: “Biofuel represents a real short-term opportunity for the UK glass sector to lead the way in sustainability among energy intensive industries, and this trial is another great example of what can be achieved when industry, academia and public partners work together to tackle the major challenges and opportunities of the future.”
Glass is made by melting raw materials, including sand and recycled glass, to the consistency of treacle. Burning gas is pumped into a 20-metre-long chamber to heat it to 1,600 degrees Celsius. The molten glass is then floated on top of a bath of molten tin, making the glass perfectly flat before being cooled.
Pilkington UK fired hydrogen on its glass furnace in August 2021 in a world-first trial as part of the HyNet industrial fuel switching project to decarbonise industrial processes across the northwest of England. [See our previous report here.]
Sir Alastair Pilkington first began working on the float glass process in St Helens in 1952. Pilkington Glass was acquired by Nippon Sheet Glass Company (NSG) in 2006.