Glass: A low-hanging fruit for the climate – and a tough nut to crack (EurActiv)

Glass: A low-hanging fruit for the climate – and a tough nut to crack (EurActiv)

Glass is irreplaceable in buildings, making it a key part of the solution to unlock energy savings and help reach Europe’s decarbonisation targets. But it’s also an energy-intensive industry, for which no immediate clean energy alternative is available.

As a high-level group of CEOs, academics and politicians gathered in Brussels last week to discuss the future of the glass industry, they were well aware that glass was all around them. It was in the windows looking outside, on the table holding their beverages, even on their smartphone screens.

“Glass is everywhere,” noted Philippe Bastien, a regional president at AGC Glass Europe. “You cannot do anything without being in contact with glass. You wake up in the morning, you go to the window. You have glass in your shower, you have glass in your oven, and in the car or train you take to work.”

The reason glass is everywhere is because as a transparent material, it serves a unique function for which mankind has found no substitute. And this could make the sector a low-hanging fruit in lowering Europe’s emissions.

The dinner debate was an opportunity for industry association Glass Europe to present its vision for 2050, a manifesto for how flat glass can contribute to Ursula von der Leyen’s European Green Deal and 2050 decarbonisation target.

The industry sees an immediate opportunity, not in the production phase – at least not for now – but rather in the use phase.

Glass is an endlessly recyclable material, and right now most of that material lies locked in inefficient uses in buildings. 80% of glass goes to the buildings sector, and 85% of the glass in that sector is still inefficient, using either single glazing or inefficient double glazing.

These types of windows allow heating, one of the biggest contributors to emissions in Europe, to pour out of a building. The buildings sector alone is responsible for 36% of total EU emissions.

“For the glass industry, the net balance of the emissions remains highly positive,” said Bastien. The CO2 emitted to produce an energy efficient double-glazed window is offset within six to 20 months by its energy savings, according to industry calculations.

“I’m not looking for an excuse – it’s very important that we work on the production emissions side, and for sure we have to do that. But we still have room to do more good thanks to the use of our product.”

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This is the extract of a Dave Keating’s article published on EurActiv on 3 February 2020.