Glass industry research centre opens in St Helens

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram (pic by Steve Barber)

A new industrial research centre dedicated to decarbonising the energy intensive glass industry has opened in St Helens today.

Glass Futures has been funded by members from companies in the glass sector and so-called heavy manufacturing, from Innovate UK, the Department for Business and via a special innovation fund backed by the Liverpool City Region.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said the centre was part of his economic vision to make the Liverpool City Region the home for renewable energy and create “hundreds of thousands of jobs” .

He said: “This is just the start, I want to build on this and create something that will create genuinely world class, high skilled jobs here.

In a swipe at the Government, who had been invited to attend, he said: “It’s a shame there wasn’t a minister here. I don’t believe that would be the case had this been in London. But once again it seems that the North has been forgotten about. But something genuinely good is happening here in the Liverpool City Region.”

Later this year the world’s first openly accessible furnace to test commercially viable technology will be installed and should be operational by January 2024.

The furnace will be capable of producing up to 30 tonnes of glass per day, and Glass Futures will use the space to collaborate with its global membership, academic researchers and industry leaders to continue trials into alternative energy sources, like hydrogen, to demonstrate and test real decarbonisation solutions.

Aston Fuller, general manager of Glass Futures, told “There’s huge cross over with other industries like steel, ceramics and chemicals. They are all facing challenges with AI, decarbonisation and sustainability.

“We want to provide an incubation space, an environment where businesses can thrive, occupying the same space where they can share ideas and intelligence and incubate great ideas.

“As a not for profit, we don’t have shareholders, the funding comes from industry and we’re the guardians of their investment.

“Our pipeline of different projects also involves people coming from all over the world.”

Contractor Bowmer + Kirkland completed 165,000 sq ft building handed over to Glass Futures, ready for the internal fit-out works to begin in April. The building is anticipated to be operational later this year.

Delivery of the project has been managed by landowner and developer NSD, on behalf of a partnership including Glass Futures, St Helens Borough Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and UKRI (UK Research & Innovation).

The facility was pre let to St Helens Borough Council on a 15-year head lease and sub-let to Glass Futures which will occupy the building to deliver industry and government-backed research and development projects focused on decarbonising the glass and foundation industries.

The UK glass manufacturing industry directly employs 24,000 people and contributes £1.6bn to the UK economy, with St Helens the heartland of the sector.

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