Glass – The Challenge for the 21st Century

The 9th ESG Conference with the Annual Meeting of the International Commission on Glass (ICG) hosted by the Slovak Glass Society was held in June 2008 in Trencin, Slovakia. The conference was intended to deal not only with the state of the art in the areas glass science and technology today, but also to address the questions of future developments, applications and challenges in glass science and technology. Special attention was paid to the future role of ICG.

Increasing energy costs, limited availability of several raw materials in the future, REACH obligations, needs for alternative raw materials and new glass compositions, as well as strict(er) legislations on emissions during the glass production, are seen as the main threats for glass and glass producers in the future.

On the other hand, a variety of new opportunities are seen for glass: new energy-saving applications, glass in sustainable energy supply, glass as a construction material or lightweight glass products, but also improving the image and awareness of “Glass” and its indispensable contributions in the society, adding value to base glass products as well as more efficient and focused R&D in the glass industry for breakthrough developments in energy savings and sustainable energy generation.

The main threats and opportunities for glass and the glass industry especially in Europe were discussed in the ICG’s plenary session with a panel of invited experts, who first presented a short introduction (papers can be obtained by to the topics:

  • Availability of non-energy materials for the glass industry within the EU (Dr. Thomas H’nlich, Schott AG, Mainz, Germany)
  • Glass and environment: informing the future (John Stockdale, British Glass, Sheffield, UK)
  • Energy and climate change (Dr. Guy Tackels, Saint Gobain)
  • Glass technologists and researchers: who is inspiring whom? (Prof. Lubomir Nemec, Laboratory of Inorganic Materials, VChT, Prag, Czech Republic)


According to the experts’ recommendations the main efforts for the glass industry in the 21st century should be:

  • improve communication with the policy makers and society in general and demonstrate the positive role that glass products have always played and will continue to play in meeting future needs;
  • be alert to changes in the world that may jeopardize the future supply of raw materials and fossil fuels necessary to make all types of indispensable glass products;
  • improve the efficiency of research, not only by new innovative ideas, but also by communication between R&D centers and industry, and by the formation of consortia including academia, the glass industry and suppliers;
  • find new methods to reduce energy consumption in glass production and minimize CO2 emissions: e.g. increased recycling, more energy-efficient glass furnaces, stronger glass (light-weighting) and higher production yields.

The second part of the plenary session was a discussion based on questions from the audience. The following issues were raised during the discussions and the four experts have treated questions on these topics:

The use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for glass products
The reliability of LCA information seems to be questionable: different institutes or industries have produced LCAs for flat glass or container glass products (comparing it with other packaging materials), including energy consumption and CO2 analysis. However, a realistic comparison of the results often fails. The CO2 emissions during glass production would be relatively easy to determine, but the CO2 emission reduction realized during the application of a glass product in a country would be more difficult to assess and would require further consideration in LCAs.

Show the potential of energy savings
Unfortunately the EU only considers caps on energy consumption and CO2 emissions for production facilities and does not take into account savings made during the use of the product. The glass industry should bring a clear message to society and politicians that most glass products will give, during their lifetime, a strong net contribution to CO2 emission reductions and energy savings, outweighing by far the energy used for this glass production. Reliable data would be absolutely important to show the very important role that the glass industry plays in reaching the CO2 emission reduction targets set by the EU.

Alternative energy sources, more efficient use of energy in glass melting processes
It was mentioned that electric melting of glass, using electricity that is not generated from gas, oil, brown coal, or coal might become of increasing interest. The glass industry should also search for alternative processes supported by mechanical devices or other methods that require less energy than thermal processes only. In addition, new routes for batch preparation or use of pre-reactions at lower batch temperatures might be exploited to convert most batch materials at much lower temperatures than applied today into a silicate material. New types of glass melting systems equipped with flue-gas waste-heat recovery need to be developed. The glass industry should also become aware of energy efficiency improvements made in other industrial sectors working with high temperatures and melting processes, such as the steel industry, in order to learn from them..

Organization of research activities in glass industry
It was pointed out that R&D in the community needs to be better organized and priority should be given to the most essential developments. The International Commission on Glass (ICG) should increase its role in defining and organizing research activities on energy efficient and environmentally sound glass production or development of new glass products. Two ICG-expert meetings in Brig, Switzerland, in March 2008 could have been the first steps to define and organize large-scale projects in the glass society with the aim of developing breakthrough technologies in glass products and glass production. Since R&D budgets for the glass sector available from governments in countries such as Germany are rather small, it would be important to gain access to financial support from other states or from the EU. It was proposed that the glass society should improve communication with governments and the EU commission to help develop realistic funding schemes or to look for financial institutions that might support innovation in the glass industry, especially for projects aimed at energy efficiency improvement and major breakthroughs in CO2 emission reduction.

Role of ICG
It was stated that ICG now enters a new era. ICG-internal processes had been optimized, resulting in a new constitution. In addition ICG will strengthen their external activities and has an important role to play in initiating and stimulating R&D and promotion activities for glass and glass products. It should improve the ‘image’ of glass in society, showing its unique role in saving energy, generating energy, and achieving the CO2 emission reduction targets.

Stimulating worldwide cooperation has always been a major focus of ICG. Many issues in Europe, such as the future position of the glass industry in society, energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, and CO2 emission reduction targets are similar to those in the USA. Therefore it would be important for European glass players to communicate with the US glass industry (represented by GMIC) and to organize joint workshops, a role that ICG is well placed to play.

Main conclusions of the plenary sessions were:

  • The glass industry and ICG need to improve their external communication with other parties: governments, politicians, funding organizations, the public, but especially the policy makers. Only communication will enable them to get across the message that glass products play a key role in making solar energy competitive and in meeting the Kyoto and post-Kyoto targets on greenhouse gas emission reduction. It should be made clear that glass definitely is part of the solution rather than of the problem.
  • ICG should take a leading role in defining, initialising and organizing consortia for major research activities, addressing innovative glass products and energy efficient glass production.

The introduction papers can be obtained by