What future for Murano glass? New solutions brought by science

With more than 100 artistic glass factory in only 1.17 square kilometres, Murano has meant glass for centuries, but globalization and limits set on pollutant emissions are threatening the survival of the system as it is.

Scientists entered the production process for the first time, identifying material, cash, energy and waste flows with the glassmakers’ help to evaluate the sustainability of the Murano production and to suggest innovative solutions.

A research team from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice studied the sector with an emergetic analysis (with an “m”). Emergy emerged from embodied energy as a method to evaluate any system with regards to its characteristic flows.

In furnaces, emergy takes into account raw material, but also knowledge, human labor, the services used to dilute polluting substances, and tourism as a cash flow and a reputation impact built in five centuries.

The most important capital appears to be human labor, which is also threatening its survival: skills and knowledge are only transmitted from glassmaster to glassmaster and therefore their inestimable value should be preserved and enhanced internationally.

Researchers included suggestions on how to reduce harmful emissions without losing the extraordinary color palette characteristic of Murano glass, for instance by placing the most problematic production in one single location where specific services should be accessible.

The sustainability challenge can also be tackled by eliminating toxic ingredients from colored glass recipes. Would it be possible to produce red glass without cadmium? “We started a new international working group - explained Francesco Gonella, physicist, emergy expert and co-author of the study - with scientists from around the world ready to collaborate with glassmasters to study alternative recipes”.

This emergetic analysis was made possible by a new association of young Murano glassmakers, InMurano, who opened their doors to researchers in order to study new strategies to keep their sector alive and sustainable.

The study on emergetic analysis of Murano glass published on the Journal of Cleaner Production was conducted by Sofia Spagnolo, PhD candidate in Environmental Sciences at Ca’ Foscari, Francesco Gonella, professor at the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems at Ca’ Foscari, Silvio Viglia and Sergio Ulgiati, University of Naples Parthenope.