Published On: Thu, Dec 24th, 2020

UK Research and Innovation invests £15m in the future of glass production

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £15m in an experimental glass furnace facility run by Glass Futures, a Not for Profit Company. The plant will be capable of producing 30 tonnes a day for windows, bottles or fibre glass and will be located in St Helens on a former Glassworks site historically occupied by United Glass. This funding represents the largest single item from UKRI’s Transforming Foundation Industry (TFI) Wave 3 Challenge budget of £66m across four years. The TFI programme aims to help energy-intensive foundation businesses to share expertise, adapt to new technology and create radical new innovations to help reduce their carbon footprint. The project provides users with access to a scaled-down manufacturing facility for making process improvements, enabling them to avoid the need to interrupt regular production. Research undertaken at the facility will focus on improvements in energy and resource efficiency, alternative raw materials, productivity improvements and training.

Alongside UKRI funding and the support of St Helens Borough Council, land owner and developer Network Space is seeking a further £9m grant from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and securing private sector investment to support the construction costs of the facility. The global glass industry will provide a combined £20m in resource, time and equipment to support the future operation of the R&D facility. Initial building design work has already commenced, funded by St Helens Borough Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. Following completion of the design and obtaining planning consent, construction is planned to start on site in 2021. Bruce Adderley, Challenge Director of the Transforming Foundation Industries challenge, said: “The goal of the TFI challenge is to help energy-intensive industries such as glass, steel, ceramics and chemicals develop new green technologies and more efficient ways of working together. The UK aspires to create the world’s first ‘net-zero’ carbon cluster of heavy industry and the facility at St Helens is an important contribution to this ambitious project. Once up and running it will help the glass industry in its transition to a more efficient, productive and environmentally-conscious operating model.”

Glass Futures’ Director, Richard Katz, added: “This £15m funding is an essential catalyst to kickstart the delivery of Glass Futures’ £54m Global Centre of Excellence in St Helens, an area rich in glass history. The state-of-the-art facility will enable Glass Futures and its members to work collaboratively to research and develop innovative solutions enhancing resource efficiency, moving the industry closer to sustainable low-carbon glass production and increasing productivity. With this grant, UKRI recognises the importance glass has to play in a future to be built on sustainable, fully recyclable, low-carbon products manufactured with highly efficient processes.”

Leader of St Helens Borough Council, Councillor David Baines, said: “Given our proud heritage and history in glassmaking, it’s only fitting that St Helens borough is fully involved in the future of the industry. Glass Futures will see global innovation, training and research and development happen here in our borough, with the potential to drive further economic growth. We are delighted to see this vital project getting a further £15m in backing from UK Research and Innovation along with support from ourselves, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and the glass industry to make this vision become a reality. This development will rejuvenate a brownfield site which has a history in glass manufacturing, and I am sure that Glass Futures will prove to be a catalyst for further investment in a place that has always been a world leader in the glass industry.”

Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said: “This project is a prime example of how we can build on our strengths as a city region to drive our economic recovery. St Helens has always been a global leader in the glass industry and Glass Futures will be a key part of making sure it retains that role in the future of the industry as it decarbonises, whilst being a key driver for jobs and skills.

“Taking Glass Futures forward is a prime example of the kind of partnership that the Combined Authority, our local authorities, Government, the private sector, and academia can forge to create world class facilities in our city region and Build Back Better from Covid-19.”

Network Space Development Director, Catherine Chilvers,“The economic and growth impacts to the Liverpool City Region also should not be under estimated,” she concluded: “The primary focus of this facility is to advance Government and Industry led R&D activity and training opportunities to support innovation, knowledge transfer, entrepreneurship and the transition of R&D to commercial applications. This grant brings that goal a step closer.”

Glass Futures is also working with BEIS on a number of additional projects, including a £7.1m Industrial Fuel Switching Procurement Contract.