Both the glass and aluminium industries cast glass in furnaces that generate large volumes of greenhouse gases. Photo: Shutterstock/Vera Larina

Hydrogen can remove harmful emissions from energy-demanding industries

Both the glass and aluminium industries cast glass in furnaces that generate large volumes of greenhouse gases. Researchers believe that replacing natural gas with hydrogen will enable us to remove greenhouse gas emissions and promote smarter production.

SINTEF is a partner in a new EU-funded project that, in the course of four years, will offer hydrogen as a solution to these industries. 

Glass manufacture is energy-demanding because of the high temperatures its processes require. It also emits CO2 and other harmful gases such as nitrogen oxides (NOx). The large furnaces used in glass manufacture have been using natural gas and electricity as their most important sources of energy. They have a lifetime of between 12 and 15 years and will take some time to replace. However, according to the EU Commission, the glass industry must be entirely carbon neutral by 2050.

Much the same applies to the aluminium industry. Glass is also smelted during the manufacture of aluminium products, requiring large amounts of energy and with the resultant emission of greenhouse gases. The gas and aluminium industries currently emit about  21.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents annually in EU countries alone. This is why we urgently require new approaches.

Fortunately, many opportunities exist along the entire value chain for the replacement of fossil sources of heat energy with hydrogen.

According to Chiara Caccamo, who is a Research Manager at SINTEF, one alternative involves radical furnace redesign combined with advanced heat recovery systems. However, this approach will only result in a maximum increase in energy efficiency of between 10 and 15 per cent, which is not enough to achieve the industry’s decarbonisation target.

From CO2 to water

This is where hydrogen comes in. Instead of natural gas, sustainable hydrogen can be used as an energy source. Combustion of the gas produces no CO2 – only water.

The EU-funded project H2Glass has assembled several European industry partners to develop a new technology platform for the combustion of hydrogen by glass and aluminium manufacturers.

“If the project succeeds, it will be possible to reduce emissions from the glass and aluminium sectors by about 80 per cent”, says Caccamo.

“The aim is to develop technologies that the glass manufacturers need to achieve the goal of 100 per cent hydrogen combustion, as well as the necessary production quality and process safety”, she says.

The technology that will be applied is based on specially-designed furnace systems that optimise heat transfer efficiency and reduce emissions. Moreover, the factories will be adapted to enable them to use both fossil fuels and hydrogen.

 The approaches will then be tested using five pilot facilities in the glass and aluminium industries.

The hydrogen will be supplied by a mobile electrolysis unit, jointly funded by the project’s industry partners.

The big picture

This project is a major undertaking. The researchers will analyse the environmental, technoeconomic and socioeconomic consequences of the hydrogen-based manufacturing approaches.

They will also be using so-called digital twins with the aim of optimising manufacturing processes and ensuring that maintenance schedules take care of safety at the facilities. The project will also be looking into alternative ways of supplying hydrogen, as well as presenting economic and life cycle analyses.

Finally, the project will offer a series of recommendations targeted at decision makers. The aim here is that experience from the project will make it possible to transfer the new systems for application in other energy-intensive industries.

About the project H2Glass:

The four-year project H2Glass is being funded as part of the Horizon Europe Digital, Industry, and Space work programme (Grant no. 101092153).

SINTEF is coordinating the project and is contributing with research input together with NTNU. The other project participants are:

  • StAM SRL (Italy)
  • Steinbeis Innovation GGMBH (Germany)
  • We Plus SPA (Italy)
  • STARA Glass SPA (Italy)
  • Sterklarna Hrastnik Druzba Za Proizvproizvodjo Steklenih Izdelkov Doo (Slovenia)
  • The Chemistry Institute (Slovenia)
  • Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e. V (Germany)
  • Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Spain)
  • European Aluminium (Belgium)
  • Stazione Sperimentale Del Vetro Societa Consortile Per Azioni (Italy)
  • Vetrobalsamo SPA (Italy)
  • OCV Chambery International (France)
  • Zignago Vetro SPA (Italy)
  • Sener Ingenieria Y Sistemas AS (Spain)
  • I.B. Unigas S.P.A. (Italy)
  • Hydro Havrand AS (Norway)
  • The University of Nottingham (UK)
  • Aston University (UK)
  • Pilkington Technology Management Ltd (UK)