In 2014 British Glass took the position of joining the UK Government’s call for carbon-producing sectors, particularly heavy industry sectors, to begin assembling a roadmap of what a carbon-free future might start to look like, recalls Dave Dalton, CEO of British Glass. “With some guidance from the NCNG (National Committee Netherlands Glass industry) who had a collaborative plan in place with their government, we started dialogue and plotting our roadmap.” Guided by what it believed was feasible in a given timeframe, British Glass “took a fairly pragmatic approach of ‘what can we do at primary level to actually stop carbon emissions’,” for sharing with the wider stakeholder community, explains Mr Dalton. In 2015, in conjunction with the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), British Glass and the glass industry published a decarbonisation roadmap with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by 2050.
On 19 July, as reported in Glass Worldwide September/October 2021, p10, British Glass published a supporting strategy setting out the glass industry’s potential route to net zero carbon emissions. The approach outlines options for glass manufacturers to reduce combustion and process emissions, and improve energy efficiency. It also makes recommendations for UK government policy on energy concerns, decarbonisation technologies, circular economy and the use of glass products in other sectors.
“The net zero strategy highlights the relatively straightforward steps that we would envisage taking over the next 10–15 years,” says Mr Dalton. “After 10 years in, the whole landscape is going to be very different.”
Staying ahead of the game
“The one thing I wanted to be very clear about as we set off on this journey was that it would be foolhardy now for any industry the size of ours to take hard-line investment decisions that might stand for the next 15–20 years against the backdrop of no long term fuel policy by government,” underlines Mr Dalton. To this end British Glass has established a pathway that is “eminently followable” and yet “built around the fact that we need to, at some stage in the first 5–10 years, really nail down what the policies and strategies are going to look like.” His concern is that substantial time-based investments should not be made if there is a chance that the goalposts could be moved. “We don’t want to put a furnace down in the next two years only to find punitive measures in place on that type of technology.”
According to Mr Dalton, the way to preclude this is better guidance. “One of the Government’s problems is that there are so many things going on in parallel in different industries, claiming one technology or mix of technologies would be better than another, that there is no cogent argument to be able to say ‘this is what we’re going to do’. There needs to be policy that industry, which will underpin economy, can actually get on and implement because the UK could be left behind with developing countries that are going to invest in ‘tomorrow’s technology’ as they grow their own societies and economies."
“The roadmap is an organic process,” he continues. “We don’t have the right to dictate where this is going – what we intend to do is lead as far as we can and encourage it to follow the path that we have spent the time and effort plotting, but knowing that to some degree it can be derailed at any time and that we have to have the wherewithal and capability set to move when policy moves.”
The route to electrification
Removing carbon at source is a key strategy for British Glass, which is pursuing opportunities surrounding electricity, hydrogen and biofuels. “The one area the Dutch had parked was a proper investigation into electrification but we started out looking at that process,” Mr Dalton reports. “How to decarbonise the grid was someone else’s challenge… Ours was what can be achieved in glass manufacturing and how we can utilise it. We didn’t hang our hats on that but we had to put it strongly into the mix and it was quite a shaping moment in our path.”
With science and technology showing that all-electric is a viable option, the next step is making electricity completely carbon-free, believes Mr Dalton. And he has the solution: “I rest on the scientific statement that at any time, day or night, the solar radiation falling on Earth is 10,000 times more than peak demand [when converted to electricity] from the entire planet; at 0.01% capture of that, we’re more than capable of sustaining full use of electricity on Earth. Someone will solve that problem to fully fuel the Earth’s needs at maximum demand."
“At some point in the next furnace campaign we should be pretty close to being able to utilise solar radiation to power our furnaces; as a scientist I am sure there is a route to electrification,” he states.
Putting glass in pole position
Dave Dalton has a passion for demonstrating glass’ role in circular economy and is conscious of the competition it faces from other industries. British Glass’ roadmap to environmentally neutral production constitutes a strong opening position, he believes, with the net zero strategy “another strong step in that direction.”
Inevitably strategies will evolve, he concedes, but “We are more than equipped to move forward and position glass way ahead of competing materials, especially with the existence of Glass Futures [the not-for-profit research technology organisation creating a Global Centre of Excellence to make glass the low carbon material of choice] and its dialogue with government departments.
“We are talking a game where glass is core and working hard to demonstrate its effective role and I feel we are getting the acknowledgement,” he opines. “Where in history would you see the glass in such a position ahead of other industries and being set as the exemplar? It is a brilliant position and we are rekindling what is good about the British mindset."
“Digitalisation is crucial too and I am very keen that our industry is not a follower,” adds Mr Dalton. “We have to push glass to the front of the queue with serialisation [ability to track and trace products throughout the entire supply chain] and digital solutions as part and parcel of how material flow is understood, tracked, honed and improved."
“I believe if you understand the building blocks then you can assemble pretty much anything,” considers Mr Dalton. “What we’ve done with the net zero strategy alongside Glass Futures and its engagement with government is put in place the principles by which we are going to stop this environmental problem. There is global interest in what we are setting up here. Our time has to be used to the benefit of our members and the UK glass industry – the roadmap and now the net zero strategy are two successive core pillars and a substantial amount of our resource is now hardwired to this activity. We are more than invested in this strategy and see it as a route towards circular economy.”
The UK glass industry net zero strategy summary can be downloaded at https://www.britglass.org.uk/knowledge-base/resources-and-publications