Environmental needs are encouraging industrial companies to harness innovation and challenge their own customers. From anticipating trends to creating new products, they are rewriting the rules to build the world of tomorrow.
Ten billion humans on the planet by 2050 – presenting as many ecological and demographic challenges and placing increasing pressure on resources. What should we do in the meantime: wait or take action now? For some industrial companies, the decision was easy. Fully committed to carbon neutrality, they have taken the lead, even going as far as challenging their own customers by carrying out projects that generate value. Could industry drive sustainable growth and actively shape our future? The answer is a resounding “yes”.
Thinking several steps ahead
Faced with the major challenges of the 21st century, industrial companies are drawing inspiration from chess to innovate. As great strategists, they know that to win the game, they need to be several steps ahead. If they are also in control of their environment and their resources, progress will be even faster.
At an industrial level, tactical actions rely on a number of pawns, from carbon reduction to recovery and recycling and preservation of resources. Since there is considerable room for manoeuvre, industrial companies look to markets to anticipate trends before garnering support from their range of stakeholders.
One of the major goals they can all look to for inspiration is carbon neutrality by 2050.
SEFPRO, a specialist in refractory solutions for the glass industry, is one of those preparing for this new world. The subsidiary of the Saint-Gobain Group has clearly identified the new challenges facing its glass-manufacturer customers, which face severe environmental constraints. They have two options if they are to achieve their technological transition – either to find new materials and/or new melting processes. “We didn’t wait for them to explain their needs to us, as we follow all market developments closely,” explains Michel Gaubil, SEFPRO’s Director of Refractory Solutions Engineering. This complete knowledge of materials and the sector has already enabled the company to increase the thermal performance of regenerative furnaces by developing ceramic materials called cruciforms. Using these high-performance furnaces to melt and manufacture glass significantly improves energy consumption while reducing CO2 emissions – characteristics certain to appeal to glass-manufacturers committed to sustainable development. But the story does not end there. Research and Development teams are continuing to investigate the refractory products of the future, which will need to combine durability, performance and resilience. “Among the electrofused zirconia materials developed for high temperature molten glass, we are studying the properties of xilec, a refractory material developed by SEFPRO, which could have a major role to play in the electrical melting of glass. This emerging technology offers promising potential for limiting CO2 emissions.” And it is likely to respond to the new expectations of glass-manufacturing customers aiming to achieve sustainable development.
New low-carbon, energy efficient materials are very attractive to industrial customers, often caught in a catch 22 when it comes to climate and the environment. In Brazil, Saint-Gobain Performance Ceramics & Refractories, a Group BU, has also been looking into refractories manufacturing, this time in the steel industry, considered to be polluting as it generates 8% of emissions associated with fossil fuel consumption. It has come up with a win-win solution: by developing zero-carbon refractories, steel-makers are now able to produce more environmentally-friendly steel. And to top it off, this also enables them to optimize their production line and save energy. Simple and efficient.
Initiatives in the construction sector...
Numerous initiatives are also springing up in the construction sector, putting into practice Antoine Lavoisier’s law of conservation: “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”. Having embraced a circular design approach, the construction sector is making great strides forward. In terms of resources, manufacturing, waste and recycling, the sector now takes into account buildings’ entire life cycle. And good practices are spreading around the world. In Abu Dhabi, Gyproc now provides information to its customers about recycling their plasterboard on worksites – an initiative triggering new, more virtuous practices and developing a true environmental culture among customers and architects. In Germany, ISOVER is leading the way, with its new service for the recovery of worksite offcuts (external insulation panels, for example) which can be recycled at their original production plant, provided they have not been mixed with other materials. Meanwhile, since January the same subsidiary has also been offering its customers an ecological recycling system by collecting pallets free of charge. These new, more responsible processes lay down a challenge for all stakeholders – including industrial companies, suppliers and partners – with one clear aim: to improve agility and performance, while providing a practical response to energy transition challenges.
Industrial companies are looking to the future and preparing to step up their best practices in many areas, such as energy optimization, material savings, waste recovery and the reduction of discharges. Following their lead, customers and partners are embracing this movement to optimize their processes and to innovate. A “win-win” approach giving a taste of things to come.
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