A new eco-friendly glass manufacturing method promises to be the next iteration of this important product; glass. Glass manufacturing has been around for thousands of years, with its use of dating back to the ancient Mesopotamian culture 3,600 years ago. Archaeologists now understand that ancient glass was created using quartz dust, but those days are long gone.
Today, the creation of glass is done in a much different way. Using limestone, sand, and soda ash, glass is mass manufactured using industrial production methods in incredibly unsustainable ways. This is compounded by modern glass being very difficult to recycle. However, a new scientific development from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Processing Engineering (IPE) might change how we create and use glass.
Limestone is an incredibly important material in all of our societies worldwide, used in various ways but most notably in construction. Limestone is a critical ingredient in concrete, but limestone also has importance in creating glass. Unfortunately, limestone mines are incredibly damaging to the natural environment surrounding them, with the constant drilling and blasting of landscapes scaring wildlife out of their natural areas and destroying their habitats to survive.
Lime-soda glass, the most commonly used form of glass today, is very difficult to recycle. It doesn’t break down on its own like other biodegradable materials used for soda or water bottles. Scientist Wen Xuehai recognized this problem with glass and is leading a research team that is creating a new eco-friendly glass manufacturing method, retaining all the properties we know and love while applying new ones necessary in our new era of sustainability.
The glass his team has developed is derived from biological amino acids, also known as peptides, which are projected to have a minimal impact on the environment. Previous attempts to create eco-friendly glass have been largely unsuccessful, with the most recent ones being unable to handle hot temperatures, which is necessary for bottling certain liquids we use consistently. However, their findings indicate that this new glass is not only malleable but also durable, biodegradable, and recyclable. Unfortunately, this glass is not quite ready for application just yet.
According to Xuehai, “the concept of biomolecular glass, beyond the commercially-used glasses or plastics, may underlie a green-life technology for a sustainable future. However, the biomolecular glass is currently in the laboratory stage and far from large-scale commercialization.”
New developments in how we use and develop all technology are incredibly important. One pattern of human history is continually taking stock of how we use a new technology, what can be left behind, and what can be altered to better suit our purposes in whichever age we are in. As for today, glass continues to be an integral part of our daily lives; we appreciate its beauty, translucent properties, and variety of other roles it plays in ways seen and unseen.
Xuehai and his team aren’t reinventing the wheel here; they are simply creating the next generation of eco-friendly glass manufacturing techniques that could be used for years, maybe decades, to come. Perhaps they are not quite at the level of industrial-scale manufacturing of their product yet, but sustainability is of key importance in our new era, and as such, their work holds promise for what’s to come.