UKRI invests £15m in the future of glass production

Glass Futures building

£15 million to support the development and fit out of a pilot research and development (R&D) facility in St Helens.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £15 million in an experimental glass furnace facility run by Glass Futures Ltd, a not for profit company.

The facility will be capable of producing 30 tonnes of glass a day for R&D into products such as bottles, jars or windows 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 £66 million across four years.

TFI programme aims

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.

Supporting the construction costs

Alongside UKRI funding and the support of St Helens Borough Council, land owner and developer Network Space is seeking a further £9 million 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 £20 million 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.

Glass Futures is also working with the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy on a number of additional projects, including a £7.1 million industrial fuel switching procurement contract.

A new era in glass production

Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said:

Merseyside has a long and rich history in glass manufacturing, and so I am pleased that this £54 million investment, including £15 million government funding, will launch a new era in highly efficient, low-carbon glass production.

This new funding will build on our commitment to cut emissions across heavy industry, create green collar jobs on Merseyside and help us to build back greener.

World’s first ‘net-zero’ carbon cluster

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.

Further information

Researching and developing innovative solutions

Glass Futures’ Director, Richard Katz, added:

This £15 million funding is an essential catalyst to kick-start the delivery of Glass Futures’ £54 million 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.

Driving further economic growth

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 £15 million in backing from UKRI 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 that 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.

Key driver for jobs and skills

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.

Partnership investment model

Network Space Development Director, Catherine Chilvers, added:

As landowner and developer, Network Space has been working closely with St Helens MBC and Glass Futures to progress the design and development of the project and establish a public or private partnership investment model.

Glass Futures is a not-for-profit organisation that is committed to occupying this new 158,000 sq ft global research and development facility on a brownfield site with deep rooted historic links to the glass industry, once again creating jobs in this important industry sector.

Funding from UKRI is crucial and we are delighted that the scheme is attracting the attention and backing it deserves.

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.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) brings together the UK’s world-leading research base with our best businesses to transform how we live, work and move around. It will put the UK in the best position to take advantage of future market opportunities.

Transforming Foundation Industries

The TFI programme through the ISCF will help energy-intensive businesses to share expertise and come up with radical new innovations to help reduce their carbon footprint.

The programme will inject significant new public and industry innovation funding into the foundation industries, helping us deliver against our vision of a cutting edge, innovative and sustainable industrial sector. £66 million will be provided by the government and £83 million will come from industry.

Top image:  Glass Futures building (credit: Glass Futures)

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