Pilkington UK has manufactured architectural glass at its factory in St Helens, UK, using hydrogen in a world-first trial.
The trial is a key step in the manufacturer’s decarbonisation plans and could see a transition to using hydrogen to power all production at the site, which currently uses natural gas.
The change means the float glass furnace – which accounts for the majority of the company’s overall carbon emissions – could operate with dramatically lower emissions.
The purpose of the trial was to demonstrate that the furnace, in which the raw glass ingredients are heated to approximately 1,600 degrees centigrade, could safely operate at full production without affecting product quality.
Matt Buckley, UK Managing Director of Pilkington UK, part of the NSG Group, said: “The trial has been a significant success.
“Thanks to NSG’s advanced fuel combustion expertise, along with the team’s preparation and effort, we were able to achieve a seamless transition between the two different fuels.
“This proves that hydrogen is just as capable as natural gas of achieving excellent melting performance and that it might be possible to run the furnace with significantly reduced carbon emissions.
“It was in St Helens that the float glass process was developed in 1952, revolutionizing glassmaking worldwide.
“Now, 70 years later, this trial represents another major milestone for the global glass industry and it is fitting that it has been launched here again.”
David Parkin, Director of Progressive Energy and Project Director of HyNet North West, said: “Industry is vital to the economy but difficult to decarbonise.
“HyNet is focused on removing carbon from industry through a range of technologies, including carbon capture and locking and the production and use of hydrogen as a low-carbon fuel.
“This trial at Pilkington UK is an important step in demonstrating that it is possible to use hydrogen to power glass production and provides a valuable blueprint for further testing and implementation.”
The three-week float glass line trial used around 60 hydrogen tankers, but the longer-term plan is to create a network of hydrogen pipelines to supply key industrial sites, avoiding the use of road transport.
The initiative is part of the ‘HyNet Industrial Fuel Switching’ project to decarbonise industrial processes in the North West of England.
By 2030, it is expected to reduce 10 million tonnes of carbon a year – the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.
In February 2020, the HyNet project received £5.3 million in funding from BEIS under its Energy Innovation Programme.