Sustainable Industry

State-of-the-art technologies and recycling practices reduce emissions in the glass industry

Sustainability highlights include regenerative furnaces, optimization of reverse logistics and new modular furnaces

The glass industry in Brazil has significant production capacity: 3.5 million tons per year. In view of this, the sector is gearing up to increasingly expand its sustainable initiatives. These include better management of carbon emissions, including the use of renewable energy and regenerative furnaces, the adoption of new technologies, and encouragement to enhanced reverse logistics – a number of steps to help feed waste back to its source so that it can be treated or reused in new products.

As such, the glass industry’s initiatives are in line with the strategy of the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) towards a low-carbon economy in Brazil based on four pillars: energy transition, carbon market, circular economy, and forest conservation.

“Brazil’s competitiveness in the glass industry is a highlight in terms of the carbon footprint,” says Stefan David, sustainability manager at the Brazilian Technical Association of Automatic Glass Industries (Abividro). “How can we get there? Mainly through recycling and renewable electricity. Being competitive and reducing costs have always been industry-wide requirements. Avoiding CO2 emissions into the atmosphere necessarily involves technological solutions, such as better use of raw materials,” he says.

Recycling – According to Abividro, individual industries have individual goals, but the overall expectation is to reduce energy consumption by 2-3% annually. Alternatively, increasing the recycling rate could help achieve this. “The more glass shards you feed into a furnace, the lower the required melting temperature since the molecular alloy will be already present. Virgin glass requires more energy,” explains David.

While glass takes five thousand years to decompose, it can be recycled indefinitely. Glass recycling in Brazil generates approximately BRL 120 million in revenue per year, according to a survey conducted by Abividro in 2018. Also according to Abividro, glass is not lost in the recycling process and can be fully reused without compromising quality. In addition, every kilogram of shards replaces 1.2 kg of virgin glass.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the sector is precisely expanding collection of post-consumption shards in the market in order to increase recycling rates and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Five years ago, for instance, the Federal District did not have an ongoing recycling solution in place. There were one-off actions, such as a partnership established 15 years ago that removed tons of glass shards from the area.

However, five years ago, a partnership was formed with environmental technology company Green Ambiental to set up a regular operation in order to remove all recyclable glass packages.

Regenerative furnaces – Glass furnaces operate at a very high melting temperature: 1,600 °C. All glass plants in Brazil use the so-called regenerative furnaces, which reduce energy consumption by up to 60%. Regenerative furnaces have an internal circuit where, instead of the heat going straight through the chimney, it first circulates through the walls of the furnace and reheats it before being released back into the atmosphere.

In other words, this type of furnace can utilize the heat from the smoke before releasing it to increase the temperature of the air that will perform combustion along with the gas. In the case of the fusion industry, the industry’s GHG emissions are primarily associated with the burning of fuel in the furnace (stationary combustion) and raw material calcination.

This initiative has been successful in reducing the weight of glass packaging without altering its characteristics. For instance, beer packages once weighed 240 g, and now they weigh as low as 60 g.  So it is possible to produce the same amount of packaging, but with less energy to melt the glass and, therefore, with reduced CO2 emissions. Also, different types of design are possible.

Technological disruption – The introduction of a new technology in the country is poised to boost energy efficiency in the glass industry. “We plan to set up two new plants with a new furnace technology in Brazil in 2024. We’re shifting from fixed furnaces, such as refractory brick furnaces, , to stainless modular steel furnaces with external insulation,” says Stefan David.

This is an investment by the largest manufacturer of glass packaging in the world – American company Owens-Illinois (O-I) – which will allocate nearly BRL 1 billion to two new plants in Brazil. It will be BRL 990 million (USD 180 million) as part of the first drive to expand the local industrial sector’s actual capacity in 10 years. The new production capabilities are expected to increase the total capacity of Brazil’s industrial sector from 15% to 20%, i.e., more than 650 million units per year. The works will start in November or December.

“The demand in the current market, along with pent-up supply, associated with the profile of our market and Brazil’s continent size is what drove the decision to deploy this type of solution,” says David.

The billion-dollar bet on Brazilian glass made by the global leader in glass manufacturing and packaging will change the production landscape in the country and will make it more flexible. The technology called Magma (Modular Advanced Glass Manufacturing Asset) affords high energy efficiency by feeding more oxygen into the furnace. Oxygen improves combustion by reducing fuel consumption and thus provides for lower emissions. In addition, innovation supports smaller production lines, with a quarter of the capacity of a conventional plant. So this reduces emissions during both the production and transport stage.

Production of information – Data collected by Abividro for the COP15 (held in 2009) showed that, at that time, Brazil’s GHG emissions in the sector were the same or lower than those in Europe. In the flat glass category, Europe reported 0.69-1,450 0 t CO2/t packaged glass, and a 2011 benchmark study showed 0.73 0 t CO2/t packaged glass. Brazil reported 0.71 0 t CO2/t packaged glass in 2005, and 0.65 0 t CO2/t packaged glass in 2012.

There are no global data that allow for a broader comparison. Europe has the CPIV (Comité Permanent des Industries du Verre Européennes, or Standing Committee on the Glass Industry), but China and the United States, for example, do not have technical literature that provide data for comparison across nations. Brazil is of the few countries that has a trade organization that has set out to reflect on environmental policy strategies.