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Carburos Metálicos successfully tests its hydrogen technology in the ceramics industry

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Carburos Metálicos
Carburos Metálicos

Carburos Metálicos has successfully concluded its participation in a pioneering initiative to accompany the ceramic and glass manufacturing industry on its path towards decarbonization, in line with the national and European objectives that set the year 2050 as the deadline for achieving an economy with a neutral balance in CO2 emissions.

One of the alternatives available to the ceramics sector to move towards this goal is the transition to natural gas and hydrogen mixtures in ceramic tile firing kilns, as well as in frit melting kilns. The Institute of Ceramic Technology (ITC-AICE) of Castellón, a reference in this field in Spain, leads a study that is part of the project called ‘Experimental study at laboratory scale of ceramic firing using hydrogen as fuel (Hidroker)’. This study, funded by the Generalitat Valenciana through the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness (IVACE), focuses on the use of hydrogen as a direct source of thermal energy by combustion in the drying and firing processes.

The combustion team of Carburos Metálicos and Air Products has been in charge of providing the mixing panel and the precise combination of natural gas and hydrogen that has helped to achieve controlled combustion with conventional burners and up to 20% hydrogen, a milestone in the ceramic industry. Over several decades, Air Products has accumulated extensive experience in supplying hydrogen to different industries and has been developing technologies and products for these segments for more than 30 years.

Pioneering and successful test

This experience accumulated by the group has proved invaluable in accompanying companies in the ceramics sector in Spain in their goal of gradually replacing natural gas with hydrogen and thereby reducing their CO2 emissions. In this sense, the test in which Carburos Metálicos and Air Products technicians have collaborated is even more important because it was the first time that ITC used hydrogen in a ceramic kiln.

The team from Carburos Metálicos and Air Products provided the hydrogen mixing panel and the precise combination of natural gas and hydrogen that helped achieve controlled combustion with conventional burners with up to 20% hydrogen, a milestone in the ceramic industry. The immediate goal is to extend this collaboration with ITC to achieve higher and higher percentages of hydrogen, which in turn will require the adaptation of existing combustion systems and burners, with a view to achieving 100% hydrogen in the near future.

Air Product’s technology to reduce CO2 emissions

Air Products has successfully developed and tested burners that use up to 100% hydrogen and, as oxidants, both air and oxygen. The know-how from these developments, coupled with decades of experience in hydrogen production, handling and distribution, have contributed to the success of the tests at the ITC.

Other industries, such as metallurgy, glass and frits, can also benefit from the systems created by the Group to improve their quality and sustainability. The industry is currently in the early stages of testing hydrogen in its processes, a transition to hydrogen that involves the use of small volumes as yet, but which will allow it to gain the experience of handling hydrogen and thus optimize the tools, technologies and procedures to adopt the use of 100% hydrogen as a fuel in a safe, efficient and economical manner. In fact, this could be the most promising path towards the decarbonization of the glass industry.

The Air Products group also has a significant portfolio of technologies and operational expertise in oxygen-enhanced combustion, from which these industries can equally benefit. This process relies on oxygen enrichment or oxyfuel to improve the efficiency and productivity of heating and melting furnaces.

By switching from the traditional ‘air-fuel’ combustion system to an ‘oxy-fuel’ one, it has been shown that the energy required can be reduced by up to 40%, which in turn can translate into 40% less direct CO2 emissions, among other pollutants generated by these processes. The reason is that the use of pure oxygen (instead of air) is more efficient, as the fuel reacts much faster with the oxygen, and that increases the flame temperature up to about 1,000°C. Air Products’ oxy-fuel burners also support the combustion of natural gas and hydrogen mixtures, so they offer a direct route to reducing the carbon footprint without generating higher ceramic kiln wall temperatures, elevated nitrogen oxide emissions or inefficiencies in the glass melting process.

On the other hand, the company is working on reducing the CO2 emissions generated by the production and transport of oxygen to make this a ‘green’ or renewable oxygen.

“The ceramic sector is intensive in the use of thermal energy and the margin for reducing direct emissions from its production processes is certainly limited if it does not substantially modify the technologies and energy sources it uses. The research led by the Institute of Ceramic Technology represents a first step to incorporate hydrogen to this industry, a molecule of great interest to achieve the planned decarbonization goals,” explains Dr. Salvador Ferrer, from the ITC Sustainability Area.

“At Carburos Metálicos we have the experience and technology of the Air Products group, which covers, among other areas, the entire hydrogen value chain. We are working on the development of new solutions and technologies to support the ceramics, frit and glass industry in their decarbonization goals. Contributing to achieve low carbon combustion using hydrogen mixtures has been a very important step that we are very proud of,” said Miquel Lope, general manager of Carburos Metálicos.

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