The glass industry was among the sectors which suffered from
the beginning of the financial downturn. Mainly depending on
the construction, automotive and consumer goods markets, it was
affected as early as Q4 2008, all segments included.
The financial crisis has had
a direct impact on the trust of consumers and we suffered from
the general decrease of consumption, Michael Delle Selve,
communications and operations manager at the European Container
Glass Federation (FEVE) told IM.
Although the glass industry has
suffered as any other industrial sector from the financial
crisis during 2009, the impact was less dramatic than for
others with an average 10% decrease at a European scale.
The industry is quite stable,
although suffering from the aggressiveness of competing
materials in some market segments such as wine, mineral water,
fruit juices, and baby food, Delle Selve added.
Competition from China also remains a source of concern.
However, recovery is still far away
and the first months of 2010 saw a slow improvement.
As a consequence, most of the
players in the industry remain cautious and tend to see the
glass as half empty, notably in Western Europe where growth
remains low. According to FEVE data, all main European glass
producers (containers) saw a dramatic decrease in their
production at the fall of 2008.
Germany, Europes leading
producer, saw its output decline from 4.1m. in 2008 to
3.8m.tonnes in 2009. The scenario was identical for other
leading producers such as Italy, France, the UK and Spain.
The market is now evolving slowly,
looking at new opportunities to develop with a trend to focus
on energy efficiency of production with CO2 targets.
The other main concern is to develop technology in order to
basic properties of the glass through post-treatments (surface,
temper, others), chemistry modifications, and nanotechnologies.
It is expected to generate potential new applications in
traditional and new sectors like PV [photovoltaic cells],
energy saving flat glass and so forth, refractories for
glass consultant Carlo Ratto explained to
Flat, containers and fibreglass
The glass market is very heterogeneous, with a large variance
and many different segments, the main ones being float,
containers and fibreglass (see panel Main types of glass
p.35). Those different sectors performed differently
during the crisis as they all depend on different end
About 75% of the glass produced
goes to the building industry and 20% to the automotive.
Container is the worst being
under attack of alternative packaging, particularly in the
North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) [between the USA,
Canada, and Mexico] where there is clear over capacity and a
more recent trend to import cheap containers from China,
underlined Ratto who believes that container is a viable
business only in South America and East Asia.
With flat glass depending on the
building sector, it comes as no surprise that it is performing
significantly in rapidly growing economies such as Brazil,
China, and India. It is however still struggling in Europe.
As a leading European glass mineral
producer described to IM, 2010 is expected to
be better than 2009 but there is still pressure in flat glass,
container and insulation. However, fibreglass reinforcement is
performing better, due to increasing application of insulation
in buildings all over the world.
Beside optical fibres, glass
substrate for TFT LCD (Thin Film Transistor Liquid Crystal
Display), and plasma screens is seen as possibly the best
niche. But again, the game is mostly played in East
Asia, Ratto highlighted.
E-Glass, mostly linked to
electronic industry, is therefore mostly localised in Asia.
One of the other growing segments
is solar glass. Although just 5% of the glass produced in
Europe is used for solar glass, is it seen as one of the most
promising sectors as the market is developing significantly.
According to some people in the industry, glass produced for
solar applications could even become a bigger sector than
automotive by 2025-2030.
One of the main concerns in the glass industry, as for other
sectors, is the rising competition from Asia, mainly China and
As Ratto underlined, the
financially driven industrial companies left without long-term
strategic planning have been unable to make fast and sound
decisions under attack of Chinese competition.
Big corporate have pursued
delocalisation as the single action to secure survival and
profitability, pressing down on western economies and
generating unemployment and depression.
Governments, in the hand of
multi-national global companies and in need of Chinese
resources to buy the debt, have been and are incapable adopting
measures aimed to protect our jobs and strategic know-how.
Glass like most commodities, of course, he added.
However, competition from China
will vary depending on the segment. For instance, containers
can be easily exported from China to end users in Europe.
However, it becomes a more challenging task when it comes to
flat glass, which is more difficult to transport.
Other major competition comes from
North Africa which became a major glass producer during the
last decade. Almost all North African production is exported,
mainly to Europe. Their costs are very low compared to
Europe which is why they attract end users, a source from
the industry told IM.
As an example, only one float glass
project is planned in Europe (Italy) within the next five years
whereas more than ten projects should flourish in North Africa
and neighbouring countries to EU such as the Ukraine.
India also sees its glass
production rising significantly along with other sectors such
as ceramics or refractories.
India is one of the
worlds fastest growing economies. The growth in its
population and higher standard of living are driving forward in
particular the subcontinents construction and automobile
sector, while the demand for consumer goods is also
rising, Jasdeep Singh, from the Confederation of Indian
Industry (CII), told IM.
In all these areas the
material glass plays a superior role, for example as a modern
construction material in architecture, as packaging material
for foodstuffs and pharmaceutical products, as vehicle glass or
the basis for displays and communication cables in the
electronics industry, he added.
Recycling vs. raw material
As in many industries, scarcity of resources and resource
efficiency remain some of the main concerns.
But as the main glass raw
materials sand, soda ash and limestone (see table p
37) are abundantly available in Europe, it is not
seen as a major challenge. Although there is now an
increasing demand for stricter quality, as a leading
European producer for glass minerals highlighted to
One of the major assets in the
debate is the recycling factor, notably for containers.
Recycling is the answer to
the raw materials crisis, said Delle Selve as glass
can be recycled without loss of quality all over again, meaning
it can completely replace the need for virgin raw
materials. In the container industry, an average of 1kg
of cullet (recycled glass) can replace 1.2kg of raw materials.
Glass bottles, fully recyclable, can be reused up to 50 times
(see Glass at a glance). Thanks to this feature,
glass could regain some market shares in the future,
Delle Selve said.
As a consequence, the recycling and
resource efficiency issues have become one of the main themes
for the EU which wants Europe to move towards a recycling
society in the coming years. The EU has therefore decided to
focus during 2011 on how it could become more resource
Delle Selve however warns that
recycling is not the same as down-cycling!
If in the recycling process a
material loses its quality and original properties, or is used
for another purpose than the original one, then it is
down-cycling and the next stop is essentially landfill.
It is clearly not as good as having a material which
maintains its properties and quality infinitely, and can run
into a bottle-to-bottle loop like glass,
Delle Selve explained.
On order to stay competitive, the glass industry has to
innovate, and generate new applications and new products with
adjunct value. In addition, it has to be capable to absorb
western labour costs and generate a stream of financial
resources to devote again to research and development to keep
If todays miserable
resources are only devoted to utilise cheap and low-quality raw
materials to fight the invincible Chinese (and not only!)
competition, we will never be able to innovate and therefore we
will compress downward our companies toward unavoidable
failure, Ratto said.
In my opinion, every company
should be able to sell around 20% of their product through new
products and new applications every year, with a five-year
turnover of the portfolio, so as to keep riding the wave of
innovation against commoditisation. This is the big
challenge, he added.
Environment became on of the main
focus for the glass industry which is looking at producing in
the long run in an environmentally sustainable way, using less
energy and less resources. This is not just good for the
environment but it is also good business, Delle Selve
Investments in the glass industry,
which are long term as about 10 to 15 years are needed for a
furnace, have to be planned well ahead.
As a consequence, glass producers
are today looking at what environmental improvements can be
made, what kind of efficiencies are needed and what kind of
technologies will be around in 2025. The challenge is to
get that right, underlined Delle Selve adding that in
2011, the EU will look at how the industry could become more
EU policies have added pressure on
the glass industry. The Emission trading Scheme, the REACH
Regulation, the new IED directive, the new Glass BREF, and the
end-of-waste criteria are among the biggest challenges. As
Delle Selve explained, although those regulations have their
own cost for the industry, their cumulative impact
represents a hardly bearable burden, with high risks of
re-location outside Europe where the legislative pressure is
Even though glass is slowly moving forward to recovery, the
industry does not see the future through rose-coloured glasses,
above all in Europe. During the last years, glass has been a
growing market, but the growth was less rapid than competing
materials. Delle Selve does not expect any major changes
of this trend for the coming decades.
Six months ago there was
generally a more positive expectation for a faster recovery.
Now the feeling is that there will be a mix of recoveries and
stagnations, and that in some major businesses, like containers
in the West, we will never get to the ante-crisis level,
A source from the industry
confirmed to IM that the levels of 2007, which
was historically recorded as the best in the glass industry,
could take as long as five or six years to be reached
In the short to middle term, the
glass market is expected to get to a new quasi-equilibrium with
a trend like in most industries such as cement, ceramics or
steel, to focus on Asia, owing to the dramatic growth of the
region which will be mostly a market of consumers, until there
will be resources to spend in exchange of cheap goods.
When resources are dried up, then who knows what will
happen. I will be glad to be not here by then, Ratto
World top float glass producers
|Pilkington Plc / NSG Group
|Invented the float glass process
flat glass manufacture
Owns 30 float lines worldwide (including 13 j-v) and
13 coating facilities
Markets: France (17%), other Western European
countries (46%), North America (1%), Asia and emerging
|Guardian Industries Corp.
||automotive exterior products
|Asahi Glass Co. Ltd.
||Leading Japanese glass manufacturer
Top glass minerals
Source: IM, various
Main types of glass
Term for perfectly flat, clear glass (basic product)
The term float glass derives from the
production method, introduced in the UK by Sir Alastair
Pilkington in the late 1950s in the UK, by which 90% of
todays flat glass is manufactured
Composition: silica sand, calcium, oxide, soda and
The most common
Used for the manufacture of flat glass, most containers,
electric light bulbs and many other industrial and art
More than 90% of all glass produced is soda-lime glass
All glass container manufacturers use the same basic
soda-lime composition and generally employ only three
basic colours, socalled flint (clear), green and amber
(brown) This greatly simplifies the recycling process and
allows the different manufacturers to recycle one
anothers products without difficulty, other than
the need to practice colour segregation
Composition: silica sand (72%), sodium oxide from soda
ash (13%), calcium oxide from limestone (11%), minor
ingredients (about 4%)
Made from extremely fine fibres of glass
Used as a reinforcing agent for many polymer products
good thermal insulation, with a thermal conductivity
Uses for regular fiberglass include mats, thermal
insulation, electrical insulation, sound insulation,
reinforcement of various materials, tent poles, sound
absorption, heat- and corrosion-resistant fabrics, and
Composition: mainly silica
Better known by such trade names as Pyrex or Kimax
Although not strictly a glass, commonly known as a
glass-ceramic, this material is glass-like in appearance,
and is used to make items subjected to high temperatures
including cookware such as Visionware, cooker doors and
Not recyclable as pyroceramics melt at a greater
temperature than soda-lime glass.
Composition: 80% silica, boron trioxide (13%), sodium
oxide (4%), alumina (3%) [4% pyroceramics]
Commonly called crystal glass
Made by substituting calcium oxide with lead oxide and
often for part of the silica used in soda-lime glass
Optical properties widely used for the finest tableware
and art objects
Cathode Ray Tubes
Found in televisions and computer monitors
Made essentially from four different glass component
parts. A typical CRT tube comprises the screen, the
funnel, the neck and a glass frit or solder used to join
the component parts together
The screen is the heaviest component, lead oxide free
Composition: high levels of barium, strontium, and
Other glasses all of similarly complex compositions but
contain varying amounts of lead oxide
The consumer change in TV screens has significantly
impacted the production and the waste stream in this
sector. Consumption is falling
Can be designed to meet almost any specified combination
of optical properties of which the most important are the
refractive index (representing the bending of a ray of
light striking the glass at an oblique angle) and the
dispersion (the dependence of the refractive index on
wavelength resulting in colour separation)
Glasses with high dispersion relative to refractive index
are called flint glasses while those with relatively low
dispersions are called crown glasses
Flint glasses are lead alkali-silicate compositions
whereas crown glasses are soda-lime glasses
Glasses with specific properties and may be devised to
meet almost any imaginable requirement, the main
restrictions normally being the commercial
considerations, i.e. whether the potential market is
large enough to justify the development and manufacturing
Specialised applications in chemistry, pharmacy, the
electrical and electronics industries, optics, the
construction and lighting industries, glass + glass
ceramics which include pyroceramics
May be the only practical material for the engineer to
Another application for which large varieties of glass
compositions are used i.e. sealing to metals for
electrical and electronic components such as in light
Here the available glasses may be grouped according to
their thermal expansions, which must be matched with the
thermal expansions of the respective metals so that
sealing is possible without excessive strain being
induced by the expansion differences
- Where the requirement for electrical insulation is
paramount, as in many types of vacuum tube and for the
encapsulation of diodes, a variety of lead glasses (30%-60%
lead oxide) can be used
Glass at a glance
World production (2008): 53m.
European capacity (2009): 12m.
Production (2009): 20m. tonnes;
down from 22.5m. in 2007
Main producers (in tonnes, 2009):
Germany (3.8m.); Italy (3.3m.); France (3.1m.); UK (2.1m.);
Silica sand, limestone and soda ash are main raw materials used
by the industry and recycled cullet is used as much as possible
(see table p.37)
industry is not a large user of water, >1m3/tonne
manufacturing is an energy-intensive process; 47 MWh/tonne
glass melt (down from 94 MWh/tonne in the 1980s)
amount of glass recycled in 2006 was 1.3m. tonnes, accounting
for 54% of the total waste stream. The container industry
recycled a record 751,845 tonnes of cullet back into new
bottles and jars. Remelting waste glass uses 25% less energy
than making glass from raw materials
As the industry can recycle almost
all of its own rejected production, very little solid waste is
produced. Furnace rebuilds produce a large amount of refractory
waste but this in turn can be recycled and a typical furnace
has a life in excess of 10 years
packaging (containers for food and beverages,
pharmaceutical glass, etc.)
building (windows, security glass, safety glass, mirrors,
automotive (glazing, lighting, etc.)
glass wool for insulation
reinforcement fibres for composite materials
household glass (tableware, ovenware, furniture, etc.)
biomedical (artificial kidneys, prostheses, laser
energy (solar and heat control glass, fuel cells, laser
glass, solar cells, etc.)
art (handmade glass, vases, etc.)
optics and optoelectronics (optical fibers, optical
devices, lenses, mirrors, etc.)
electronics (insulators, display panels, integrated