To tackle the climate crisis, the UK is committed to drastically reducing the carbon emissions of our heavy industries. This includes glass-making – one of the biggest emitters of CO2 worldwide. But how might it be done?
My team is working on a technique to make glass from waste ash produced by biomass power plants – and it could revolutionise the way we manufacture glass.
A return to the past
The roots of our project go back to the origins of glass-making. A thousand years ago, glass was made from tree ash, with whole forests burned for the purpose. For example, the stained glass in Notre Dame Cathedral comes from this method.
Mass deforestation meant that continuing to make all our glass from tree ash wasn’t sustainable. But today there’s a new source of ash – the waste product from biomass power plants.
An untapped resource
Biomass power plants create energy by burning wood. It’s seen as carbon-neutral because trees are planted to replace the ones burned – and it’s less harmful for the planet to burn wood than the more polluting alternatives of oil or coal.
There are at least 15 biomass power plants in the UK – and they produce huge amounts of ash, much of which currently ends up in landfill.
My team has developed a way of using this ash to create glass. And we can melt it at a lower temperature to the current fuel, requiring less energy.
It’s the first raw material to be introduced to the industry for 30 years, when slag from steel-making was discovered to be usable for the purpose.
A brave new world
We are setting up a pilot furnace to test the new techniques, before rolling them out to industry.
If we can prove it’s technically feasible and economically viable, it will have a huge effect on glass-making worldwide.
Most glass manufacturers are multinational, so if this is taken on it will spread across the world – and change the face of glass manufacturing forever. It could even be a trailblazer for other heavy industries like steel or chemicals.
Ultimately, our work could mean a huge step towards tackling the climate crisis.