Re-use of building materials is a response to the climate emergency following the circular economy principles. An informal collaboration has been exploring innovative processes to tackle material recovery from insulating glass units (IGUs). The value of clean cullet in float glass production has already been demonstrated but recovered interlayers, sealants and spacer materials also have potential industrial uses if economically separated.

We ran successful trials of IGU disassembly, using a robotic arm with force feedback technology, to ensure precision, speed and consistency. Initial trials had an emphasis on glass recovery from units with various spacer types and edge seal composition. The quality of recovered glass enables reuse, which scores high on the circular economy scale. Alternatively, the process yields clean cullet suitable for remelting in the float line and supports closed-loop recycling. Low-energy methods of separating laminated glass without crushing are being explored, with a view to yielding high grade PVB and clean glass/cullet. Future trials will explore smart automation for separate recovery of edge seal materials.

The vision of the collaboration is to support the growth of a new branch of glass processing industry, in the dismantling of IGUs and recovery of the materials to their producers, reversing the supply chain and closing the loop of materials use.