Due to frequent extreme weather and climate events brought about by continuous warming of the global climate system, countries around the world are attaching increasing importance to carbon emission reduction. The Chinese government, in an effort to fulfill the new requirements posed by “carbon neutral” development, has been committed to advancing green transformation of the glass industry and actively promoting the development of Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV), glass hydrogen cycle and glass zero-carbon process reengineering, carbon dioxide capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and other technologies. This article puts forward three proposals for the glass industry to embrace the low-carbon development strategy.
Cover image: Shanghai Bund, Shanghai, China. Photo by Edward He on Unsplash
For the past few years, continuous warming of the global climate system has been threatening the survival and security of mankind. In 2021, frequent extreme weather events around the world, such as Indonesia’s tropical cyclone in April and super rainfalls in Western Europe and China in July, have caused thousands of deaths and displacement of tens of millions of people.
Countries around the world have taken carbon reduction measures to address the impact of climate change on human survival and security, and Glasgow Climate Pact signed in 2021 by the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change explicitly included the issue of coal and fossil fuels in the final decision of the Conference of the Parties and agreed to phase down coal as fuels. As a major global carbon emitter, China announced in September 2020 that “China aims to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and strives to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060”. Glass plays an important role as a unique functional material in promoting energy transition and low-carbon transformation.
The Role of Glass in Low-carbon Transformation
The development of glass epitomizes the world’s history of science and technology progress. Glass is intrinsically linked to human civilization, as every progress of glass technology moves the world’s science and technology civilization forward. Facing the new requirements of “carbon-neutral” development, China is committed to promoting a green transformation of the glass industry and puts forward the objective of pursuing “clean, zero-carbon, smart and efficient” development. China has clarified its low-carbon development path consisting of “core + key + foundation” technologies, in which the core technology refers to reconstruction of zero-carbon energy, the key technology focuses on reengineering of the zero-carbon processes in the glass industry while the foundation technology points to construction of a negative carbon system.
According to BP’s Energy Outlook, under the zero-carbon scenario in 2060, photovoltaic and hydrogen will account for 35% and 8% of China’s energy structure respectively (as shown in Figure 1). Therefore, the combination of “photovoltaic + hydrogen energy” will be crucial to the development of zero-carbon energy.
Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV)
Thanks to Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) technology, power generation has become an integral function of BIPV buildings, paving the way to zero-carbon power generation scenarios. Development of the photovoltaic industry depends heavily on glass. For instance, crystalline silicon solar cells require photovoltaic glass as cover materials. Power generation glass and perovskite thin film solar cells require high strain point glass and transparent conductive glass respectively as substrate materials.
China has achieved multiple innovative BIPV projects, including the construction of the 8.5th-generation TFT-LCD ultra-thin float glass substrate factory in Bengbu, Anhui Province (as shown in Figure 2a). Moreover, this factory is the world’s largest single building integrated with thin-film photovoltaics, with a total installed capacity exceeding 10 MW and an annual power generation capacity reaching 11 million kWh. Its BIPV power generation addresses 40% of the entire factory’s electricity consumption, making it a true “lighthouse factory” with significant economic benefits and energy savings achieved. Thanks to power-generation glass materials adopted, the entire system of the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing (as shown in Figure 2b) reduces carbon emissions equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of nearly 3,900 cars. The Triumph Robot Intelligent Equipment R&D Center (the Center) built-in Shanghai (as shown in Figure 2c) integrates prefabricated building materials, power-generation glass and advanced thermal-insulation building materials. The average power generation of the Center reaches 227,900 kWh per annum, saving 80 tons of standard coal and reducing 227 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.
Green Hydrogen Energy
Zero-carbon power includes solar energy and hydrogen energy. As hydrogen energy moves to the forefront of global energy competition, a key direction of zero-carbon development lies in the combination of photovoltaic + hydrogen energy. In terms of hydrogen energy preparation, hydrogen production from renewable sources (green hydrogen) is the common development trend with a shared understanding achieved. Replacement of traditional fuels with green hydrogen offers the glass industry a promising clean combustion technology —— an innovative technology pursued by Saint-Gobain, SCHOTT and other world-renowned glass companies with certain results achieved. In the future, upon accomplishing core steps in hydrogen storage and transportation, the construction of a “glass hydrogen cycle of preparation-utilization-coupling” (as shown in Figure 3) will become the new direction of carbon emission reduction for the glass industry.
Glass Zero-carbon Process Reengineering
To meet the requirements for “carbon-neutral” development, zero-carbon on energy sources, raw materials and processes for glass production constitutes the core issue in glass technology system transformation. To illustrate, zero-carbon on energy sources focus on utilizing green electricity and hydrogen as new types of energy resources. Zero-carbon on raw materials emphasize the substitution with low-carbon glass raw materials to reduce demands for high-carbon raw materials. Zero-carbon on processes highlight the use of digital twin, short-process manufacturing, material and energy recycling and other processes to reduce carbon emissions.
Construction of a Glass Negative-carbon System
Carbon dioxide capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology is an indispensable part of the global technology path to achieve “carbon neutrality”. According to The Energy Progress Report 2020 published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank, the carbon reduction effect of CCUS technology will be as high as 15% by 2070 (as shown in Figure 4), making CCUS technology an important part of carbon neutrality strategies of various nations. China’s glass industry attaches great importance to the development of CCUS technology and actively promotes the R&D and application of CCUS technology, which is mainly reflected in three aspects: (1) Clarify the R&D strategy and development direction of CCUS. (2) Increase support for CCUS technology R&D and demonstration. (3) Emphasize CCUS-related capacity building, international exchanges and cooperation.
Suggestions for Global Glass Low-carbon Development
Facing continuous warming of the global climate system, three proposals are put forward for the glass industry to embrace the low-carbon development strategy.
Proposal 1: Leverage Sci-tech Innovations to Drive Glass Industry Development
First, I call on global glass enterprises to establish a low-carbon innovation alliance. The alliance will carry out three missions with science and technology innovation as the core: 1) Formulate a global low-carbon development technology roadmap for the glass industry; 2) Carry out R&D for key, common and cutting-edge interdisciplinary technologies in the glass industry; 3) Promote demonstration and application of new products and technologies for low-carbon glass.
Proposal 2: Leverage Green Funds to Jointly Build a Harmonious Glass Ecosystem
Secondly, I propose to set up a global glass industry green development fund, as green finance is the “accelerator” for low-carbon development of the global glass industry. The fund shall support interdisciplinary low-carbon R&D activities combining “glass + energy, glass + electricity, and glass + transportation” to open up a dynamic landscape with mutually enhancing activities. The fund shall also support small and medium-sized enterprises to cut emissions and promote decarbonization across the “whole supply chain”. The fund shall support developing countries to embrace low-carbon transformation and share green and low-carbon resources. In addition, the fund shall support scholars in the field of glass low-carbon development to conduct extensive communication and exchanges. The fund shall serve as a bride to connect the whole world and contribute to the building of a harmonious global glass ecosystem.
Proposal 3: Leverage Opening-up and Exchanges to Jointly Build a Beautiful Future for Glass
Thirdly, I call on efforts to improve public science education on glass materials for a renewed understanding of glass by all mankind, strengthen talent exchanges to facilitate knowledge flow on a global scale, and promote cultural exchanges to emphasize the leading role of glass in ushering in a more beautiful life.
Given the continuous warming of the global climate system, the glass industry urgently needs to accelerate its transformation to green development, and carry out science and technology innovation in Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV), glass hydrogen cycle, glass zero-carbon process reengineering, and carbon dioxide capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology to achieve the goal of “carbon neutrality” at an earlier date.
This article was originally published in IGS Magazine’s Spring 2022 Issue – Decarbonising the Glass Industry: Read the full Magazine here for more thought-leadership from those spearheading the industry
Author: Prof. Peng Shou
Prof. Peng Shou, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), expert of glass new materials, is chief engineer of China National Building Material Group Co., Ltd., board chairman of China Triumph International Engineering Co., Ltd. and vice president of the Chinese Ceramic Society.
Prof. Peng Shou has developed the world-class 30μm flexible ultra-thin glass (UTG), the first high-generation TFT-LCD glass substrate independently developed in China, the first Chinese neutral borosilicate glass tubing for vaccines, the CIGS power generation glass with the highest efficiency in the world, and serials of glass new materials. He has been awarded with many prizes and received many weighty honors, including President Award of International Commission on Glass, Guanghua Engineering Science and Technology Award, Medal of Leadership in Advancement of Ceramic Technology of the American Ceramic Society, Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation Science and Technology Innovation Award etc.