Ground breaking £50m national centre of excellence earmarked for town

Richard Katz

The history of St Helens is reflected in the development of glass-making and the town is set to play a leading role in the future of the industry in the UK.

A ground-breaking £50m national centre of excellence for glass innovation is earmarked for the town, which for generations has been home to a range of glass operations including Pilkington.

The proposed St Helens site will focus on the hot side of glass production, with a large experimental furnace capable of producing 30 tonnes per day for windows, bottles or fibreglass.

Research would concentrate on raw materials and alternative energy sources to reduce carbon and other emissions by more than 80 per cent.

Industry group Glass Futures has been awarded a government grant to help develop the bid for the proposed centre of excellence on the site of a former glassmaking operation.

It is one of two centres proposed for the UK. The other will be West Yorkshire at the University of Leeds’ new research and innovation campus.

The Leeds operation will focus on glass formulation and new high-tech products. It will concentrate on the ‘cold’ side of glass production, with research into coatings, structure and the use of glass in medicine.

Richard Katz, director of Glass Futures, a not for profit company specifically set up to bring industry and academia together, says the research that will be carried out in St Helens will be vital for the future of UK glassmaking.

He says: “We are talking closely with government to orchestrate funding which will be matched by the industry to deliver both of these research centres and we hope they will be up and running in a couple of years.”

And he adds: “It is absolutely vital for the future of the industry that we get this right and that’s why businesses have come together to push the agenda forward. We believe the industry has great potential for growth.

“It is about ensuring that the industry is fit for the future and is leading the way in innovation and sustainability.”

The project has the support of St Helen’s Council and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. He said: “Glass Futures is an internationally significant industrial innovation project which aims to increase the productivity of the glass industry while reducing its carbon impact.

“It’s a ‘win, win, win’ project with innovation benefits, environmental benefits and high-value jobs.”

Finding alternative sources of energy is vital as the government looks to meet its climate change targets and the industry works towards its pledge to eliminate carbon from its processes by 2050.

Glassmaking is a major industry in the north of England, employing thousands of people along a corridor that runs from Sheffield and Leeds across the Pennines to Merseyside.

In March Glass Futures received a government grant to help develop the bid for its proposed centres of excellence having received early-stage funding from the Strength in Places Fund (SIPF) to develop a full-stage bid for multi-million pound cash support.

Partners include the world’s largest glass bottle manufacturer Owens Illinois; glass bottle manufacturer and logistics company Encirc; glass plant engineers and contractors Tecoglas and the British Glass Manufacturers’ Confederation.

Leeds, Sheffield Hallam and other universities, including Cambridge, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham and Swansea are also supporting the project with their expertise.

More than 6,000 people are directly employed in manufacturing glass at 20 or so major sites across the UK, contributing around £3bn to the economy.

A further 100,000 or so jobs rely on glass in industries as diverse as food and beverage filling lines, window installation, construction of wind turbines and electronic circuit boards.

Glass Futures is also looking to create ‘The Glass Corridor’ with the aim of strengthening and aligning existing industrial and academic expertise along the M62 around Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds as part of the Northern Powerhouse.

One of its aims is to create a “globally unique” pool of expertise in glass technology, spanning the entire glass supply chain and manufacturing processes that will be a magnet to attract global investment into R&D and the creation of new businesses.

 

 

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