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Japan is aiming to become a hydrogen-based society but will it be able to deliver the quantities of hydrogen required by glass manufacturers at an acceptable CO2 emission and price level? René Meuleman discuses hydrogen combustion processes and why all-electric melting technology and control solutions could be a more efficient option.

The mass production of container glass in Japan started in 1916, when Nippon Glass bought a Michael Owens automatic bottle blowing machine. Soon after, in 1919, flat glass mass production began using the Colburn process, with Nippon Sheet Glass employing the Fourcault process in 1928. Tokyo Electric Co was the first company to manufacture tube glass using the Danner process in 1927, as well as using the Ivanhoe machine to manufacture bulbs in 1929. Of course, Japan was also deeply involved in CRT tube manufacture, initiated by Samsung in 1977 using the Corning process (1). Insulating and reinforcement glass fibre manufacturing also came to Japan and today, the Japanese glass industry has developed into one of the world’s finest and most innovative glass industries. It plays an important global role and intends to stay at the forefront when investigating solutions to meet environmental and climate change challenges.

National hydrogen strategy

Most of the global regions signed the Paris agreement on climate change, as did Japan on 22 April 2016, representing 3.8% of greenhouse gases for ratification, while sitting in between Germany (2.6%) and India (4.1%) on CO2 emissions (2). Consequently, Japan released its Basic Hydrogen Strategy on 26 December 2017, committing to become the first hydrogen-based society in the world. Meanwhile, many initiatives are looking into hydrogen as an energy carrier of the future and recently, the NSG Group announced that it will run a test on one of its float glass furnaces in the UK. Unfortunately, only grey hydrogen will be available. Perhaps it will provide a proof of concept, although glass manufacturers might need to doubt that and consider the implications.

Regenerative end- or side-port furnaces have been around for over 100 years and the technology was improved until it reached its physical energy efficiency constraints around 20 years ago. In other words, not much more energy efficiency can be expected from such a furnace design without installing a lot of complicated add-ons. Ideally, the whole design needs to become carbon neutral and in that respect, there is consequently no potential for the use of fossil fuels anymore. At least not in the next furnace campaign. Therefore, the industry needs to consider alternative energy carriers and hydrogen, next to electrical power, is one of them of course.

There are several ways to produce hydrogen. Grey or blue hydrogen should not even be considered, as both use natural gas as a source and will produce a lot of CO2. Sooner or later, it will be realised that these are ridiculous ways of converting natural gas into hydrogen.

The only sustainable way of manufacturing so-called green hydrogen is electrolysis; converting renewable electricity generated by solar cells or wind turbines into hydrogen and oxygen.

Looking at the conversion from electrical energy into the energy carrier hydrogen, the first question arising is: Why not directly feed the electrical power into the glassmaking process, avoiding the energy losses and the electrolyser’s related investments?

The Japanese hydrogen strategy foresees that most of the hydrogen will be imported. Specifically, for hydrogen combustion in glass melting furnaces, there is obviously a concern to burn the hydrogen with outside air due to the high flame temperatures. And the presence of a high nitrogen concentration, which results in high NOx emissions. Having a free supply of oxygen from the electrolysis process available for the combustion of hydrogen would also be a great advantage to avoid NOx emissions but that means both the hydrogen and oxygen would need to be shipped from the source to Japan, most likely not in the same vessel. Alternatively, oxygen could be generated on-site at the glass facility but that would add cost.

Even if this technology is considered from a commercial perspective, it is unlikely that traditional furnace designs will be able to manage hydrogen-oxygen combustion, in the knowledge that only a quarter of the amount of heating energy is available in a normal cubic meter (Nm3) of hydrogen, compared to the amount of heating energy available in a Nm3 of liquified natural gas (LNG) and 100% of water vapour in the combustion space. Most likely, new furnace designs will need to be developed and they might as well be all-electric furnace designs, leaving the energy conversion technology to the utilities and remembering that all-electric furnaces are a proven technology, having been around for over 100 years.

Of course, the direct use of electrical power in the glassmaking process is by far the most energy efficient method. At least 85% energy efficiency can be achieved by applying electrical power directly via an electrical furnace boosting system using joule heating. In comparison, the energy efficiency of alkaline or proton exchange membrane electrolysis might reach approximately 81% in the near future (around 2030). However, as the hydrogen and oxygen would be used in a furnace combustion process, the overall efficiency would drop to 35% at the most. It might even become more efficient to use fuel cells to convert the hydrogen back to electrical energy and feed that into the melting process by joule heating!

Eurotherm APAC glass experts

In 2018, the retail price of hydrogen in Japan was €0.83/Nm3 (100jpy) and it is predicted that the price will drop down to €0.17/Nm3 (20jpy) in the long-term (past 2030) (3). 1 Nm3 equals 3kWh (10.8MJ), while 1 Nm3 of LNG ≈ 12kWh (4) (44MJ) costing only €0.03/Nm3. In this respect, hydrogen will be at least be 22 times more expensive (5).

The Japanese hydrogen strategy is an ambiguous and extremely innovative initiative. And of course, it makes sense to investigate and work together with partners like Australia to make hydrogen sufficiently available (6) but the question remains if hydrogen in a combustion process for glassmaking will become the future or if all-electric heating will take over from fossil fuel immediately? Until now, all-electric seems to be the most feasible technology.

Hydrogen energy table

Energy saving control technology

Advanced energy saving technology for the efficient control of electric furnaces is already available from suppliers such as Eurotherm by Schneider Electric. With over 50 years’ experience in supplying power control and automation solutions to the global glass industry, Eurotherm offers a wide portfolio, with a specific focus on improving and optimising energy efficiency in electric glass melting processes.

Leading the Eurotherm glass business in Japan is Seetharaman Jayaraman (Raman), who has over 25 years’ engineering experience, with the last 20 years spent working within the glass industry. His primary focus is helping glass customers to save energy and reduce their CO2 emissions. As Japan is the home of many glass OEMs and manufacturers in the Asian region, the Japanese market is a key focus for Eurotherm, among others such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“We have had good success with our high efficiency process control, power control and energy management solutions across the region, designed and delivered from our local project engineering bases” Raman comments. “Our capability spans from the supply of sophisticated control systems for high end manufacturing, to cost competitive control solutions for commodity manufacturing applications, as well as products for OEMs. While cheap solutions continue to come from China, they don’t compete well in terms of quality when compared to Eurotherm temperature accuracy, design robustness and energy efficiency features.”

Eurotherm Cabinet

Raman’s direct experience of working in the glass industry provides customers with a knowledgeable interface into the subject of advanced control and power management system technology. Initially working in the maintenance team at Guardian Glass, then specialising in the design and development of glass processing equipment and various projects at Asahi Glass in India, he later joined Shanghai Pony Technologies in the projects team and was involved in various projects in the Middle East, Russia, China and Indonesia. With his diverse knowledge and experience covering float, container, fibre, tableware, architectural and automotive glass sectors, today Raman is Glass Business Development Manager for Eurotherm in the APAC and Middle East regions.

On the subject of CO2 reduction, he says: “In the past, our successes were particularly in electric boost for float glass, as well as direct platinum heating applications for glass fibre and display glass but interest is now growing in hybrid and all-electric furnace control solutions.”

Other key glass team members in the APAC region are Jay Agustin, Sales Manager for the ASEAN, ANZ, Japan and Taiwan regions and Donghyun Shin, Technical Sales Manager for North Asia. Both have many years of experience in glass manufacturing processes, as well as extensive knowledge of Eurotherm high efficiency control solutions. “Historically, in the glass industry we were known for our expertise in furnace, bath and forming temperature control” Jay Agustin explains. “With our expertise in power control, we are now focused on helping customers move away from fossil fuels to electric melting technologies, to save energy and reduce CO2 emissions. Eurotherm are a pioneer in this field and we are seeing a lot of interest from the flat glass sectors. This is due to the increasing use of electric heating processes that warrant our level of precision temperature control, automation and power control efficiency.”

On future trends, Mr Agustin continues: “Japan is likely to be a launchpad for new, revolutionary future trends in glass manufacturing. Their glass industry is broad, from flat glass manufacturing to manufacturing of glass for electronic products. Growing populations in the APAC region, increasing demand for environmentally-friendly buildings and replacement of plastic containers, will surely drive an increase in demand for glass. APAC countries, particularly in the ASEAN region, are still attractive locations for investors in glass manufacturing, which is increasing year on year. Although the region now has less than 10 years to reduce its carbon emissions to comply with the Paris agreement, gas is still the most used and preferred fuel to fire up most furnaces due to the low price and accessibility of gas. This makes it challenging for most glass manufacturer owners to start the change to cleaner power sources. The industry needs to evolve to achieve lower carbon emissions as the years progress and we already find ourselves being increasingly involved with companies switching to electrical power sources. By 2030, Japan needs to reduce its emissions by 26% compared to 2013 levels.(7) Eurotherm solutions are a perfect fit for this, as they are designed to help production teams manage their electrical power usage efficiently.”

René Meuleman, global glass business development manager for Eurotherm stresses: “While Japan has committed itself to become a hydrogen-based society, research and development is still ongoing to work out if enough hydrogen can be provided in the quantities and locations required at an acceptable price level. Therefore, hydrogen combustion may not end up being the best option for Japan-based glass manufacturers. Also, companies wishing to standardise their global operations may struggle to do so if hydrogen is not readily available in all their regional bases. All-electric melting technology still seems to be the most viable solution for a lot of regions, based on current information.”

Strong collaboration network

End users, equipment manufacturers and solution providers can all benefit from the range of energy saving features and control efficiency solutions provided by Eurotherm control products. For example, a control system based on the EPower Advanced SCR controller offers hybrid firing modes for efficient control of electric heaters, while predictive load management strategies help to minimise peak power demand across the system or plant. The EPack Compact Power Controller range offers hybrid firing modes in a smaller footprint for processing machinery, while process controllers such as the T2750 PAC offer the basis for high accuracy temperature control, as well as the high availability architecture needed for 24/7 glass manufacturing processes.

EPower Controller Eurotherm

“We have a strong collaboration network that enables us to support Japanese glass manufacturers and OEMs with products and solutions directly via our local sales and project delivery teams, as well as via a network of local approved solution providers and distributers” says Donghyun Shin. “Eurotherm glass solutions and service teams work across a global network, so we can easily support the design and specification of system projects initiated in Japan for delivery in other countries. Working in this way enables us to offer cost-effective and high quality solutions to meet the needs of major global OEMs spread across Europe, America, China and Japan.”

T2750 PAC Eurotherm

Mr Shin continues: “From our process automation beginnings as Turnbull Control Systems (TCS) in the 1970s, many glass manufacturers still remember our previous system solution based on the T640 process controller. Many of these have been replaced over the years with the modern T2750 process automation controller, with EPower controller technology for the electric heating and energy saving aspect. Eurotherm glass team members are considered as trusted advisors to the industry. We know glass processes very well and we understand what the customer needs, particularly now when they are wanting to reduce their CO2 emissions and energy bills.

As a global expert in power, energy, automation and switch gear technology, Schneider Electric offers an accessible brand for glass manufacturers and OEMs worldwide. Concluding, Seetharaman Jayaraman notes: “Eurotherm glass teams possess domain expertise of great depth in various glass manufacturing processes and as an associated brand of Schneider Electric, we are able to offer an enhanced and extended portfolio of solutions. Synergising our capability with global Schneider business teams enables us to serve our Japanese and wider APAC region customers with high efficiency, good value, end-to end-solutions, helping them to reduce CO2 emissions – as we like to say – from grid to glass.”

About author:

Special thanks to former Business Leader for Global Glass at Eurotherm, René Meuleman, for authoring the original content of this article.

The full version of this article appears in the May/June 2020 issue of Glass Worldwide alongside a broad cross-selection of editorial that assists with all areas of production and processing.


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