Social Issues addressed by Sumitomo —Compass for the Future—
Committed to achieving carbon neutrality through carbon reduction in manufacturing processes and transition to renewable energy
Molten glass glowing brightly red in a scorching hot brick-lined furnace. Although this image typically comes to mind when people think about glassmaking, the energy-intensive glass manufacturing process is about to change. Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG Group) is doing its utmost to introduce new low-carbon fuels as replacements for the fossil fuels, such as heavy oil and natural gas, currently used for melting raw materials in glassmaking, in order to slash CO2 emissions in the glass manufacturing process. In addition to measures targeting the manufacturing process, the company is also active in introducing renewable energy and developing glass products that contribute to energy saving.
Silica sand is the principal raw material of glass. Since the melting temperature of silica sand alone is too high, soda ash is added to lower the melting temperature, and limestone is added to reduce its solubility in water. To melt these materials, the melting furnace is heated to a high temperature, approximately 1,600℃. And to prevent the glass from hardening, the melting furnace must be kept at a constant high temperature. This traditional glass manufacturing process is ripe for decarbonization by switching from conventional fossil fuels to green alternatives.
In the world’s first, in August 2021, NSG Group conducted a demonstration experiment of glass manufacturing powered by hydrogen at its plant in the UK, and succeeded in producing architectural flat glass 6 x 3 meters in size. This confirmed that hydrogen can achieve the same excellent melting performance as conventional fuels and has the potential to slash CO2 emissions from melting furnaces used in glassmaking. Nevertheless, the study also highlighted issues related to cost and the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen supply.
In quest of low-carbon fuels that could be used during the transition period prior to the full-scale introduction of zero-carbon energy sources such as hydrogen, a demonstration experiment of float glass manufacturing using 100% biofuel was conducted in February 2022. In this experiment led by Glass Futures, a UK-based research and technology organization of which NSG Group is a member, approximately 15,000 m2 of float glass was successfully manufactured. It was confirmed that biofuel emits 80% less CO2 compared to natural gas, which is currently the principal fuel used in the UK, suggesting that CO2 emissions from the glass manufacturing process could be greatly reduced even before zero-carbon options are developed and put into practical use.
In addition to reducing CO2 emissions in the manufacturing process, NSG Group is endeavoring to decarbonize the operations at its facilities by transitioning to electricity derived from renewables. In January 2022, the company became the first glass manufacturer operating in Poland to sign a 10-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for renewable electricity generated by a wind farm. By purchasing approximately 100 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year for its Polish sites at a fixed price under the PPA, NSG Group expects to achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions equivalent to the amount emitted by approximately 15,000 passenger cars in one year of operation (or 278 million km traveled).
In yet another noteworthy initiative, in May 2022, NSG Group installed more than 4,300 thin-film solar panels, manufactured by First Solar with a generating capacity of 1.4 megawatts (MW), at the Rossford plant in Ohio, the U.S. Once they are in full operation, they will be supplying approximately 2.5 million kWh of renewable electricity annually.
NSG Group’s socially beneficial decarbonizing efforts also extend to product development. In May 2019, the company began joint development of transparent solar windows with Ubiquitous Energy, a leader in transparent solar panel technology. The aim is to develop a power-generating window by adding power generation capabilities to the conventional window glass. While maintaining the functionality of ordinary transparent window glass, invisible ultraviolet and infrared rays are selectively absorbed to generate electricity. Various experiments are underway with a view to commercialization. Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) power generation, a novel renewable energy source eminently suited to urban areas where space constraints make installation of conventional solar panels difficult, is a focus of high expectations.
In May 2022, NSG Group announced its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, raising its CO2 emission reduction target by 2030 to 30% of the 2018 level. In accordance with its unswerving commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 for the benefit of society, NSG Group is accelerating its initiatives toward this goal. In addition, the company is implementing various other measures, such as CCSU (carbon capture, storage, and utilization), the use of alternative raw materials in glassmaking, and greater use of cullet (reuse of glass). NSG Group will further promote initiatives to make carbon neutrality a reality.
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