£50m Glass Futures project to make UK world leader

Plans have been unveiled for twin centres of excellence for glass in the north of England aimed at putting the UK at the forefront of global manufacturing.

Bottle production process at Encirc Glass.
Bottle production process – image courtesy of Encirc Glass.

The £50m Glass Futures project brings industry and academia together in a consortium including Guardian Glass (USA), the University of Leeds, Siemens and Swarovski, together with many other major glass companies and universities.

Half the project cost is expected to come from industry with matched funding sought from government.

The sites under consideration are the mothballed line at the Pilkington Glass Watson Street works in St Helens on Merseyside, with the other at the University of Leeds new research and innovation campus in West Yorkshire.

The Pilkington site is expected to become a base for research and training in to the ‘hot’ side of glass production, such as new materials, energy and carbon reduction.

This site has existing infrastructure, so would house the 30-tonne per day furnace and ancillary equipment to be used for research, development and demonstration, alongside laboratories and other research facilities.

The facility would play a crucial part in delivering Glass Futures’ aim to help the UK glass industry meet its target of reducing its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050. A commitment which will involve helping the industry to switch from using gas to melt glass to using green electricity.

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.

The St Helens site is expected to be the base for research in to the ‘cold’ side of glass production.

This includes research into smart coatings for flat glass to reduce UV light or change colour or transparency; coatings for bottles or jars which would change colour depending on the shelf life of the contents; strengthening structured glass facades for buildings, and the use of glass materials for medical or pharmaceutical use.

Glass Futures should see a launch of activities in the Northern Powerhouse - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The two proposed industrial research hubs have the potential to create around 50 direct jobs each, with up to 1,000 indirect jobs – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The location of the new campus is still under discussion, but it is expected to be in Leeds and will include workshops, laboratories and training facilities.

The proposed industrial research hub at St Helens could has the potential to create around 50 direct jobs, and the Leeds research hub another 50 or so direct jobs, with up to 1,000 indirect jobs in total.

The facilities will bring together world class experts to carry out research into energy and emissions reduction, glass formulation and new high-tech products.

Richard Katz, director of Glass Futures, a not for profit company specifically set up by the industry to bring industry and academia together, said: “The glass industry has amazing potential for growth and, by bringing academics, manufacturers and technology companies together, we can grasp that potential and bring real benefits to the UK economy.

“We believe Glass Futures will act as a demonstrator to other heavy industrial sectors, leading the way for the UK to re-establish itself at the vanguard of global technology and manufacturing.”

Other partners already involved in Glass Futures are: the world’s largest glass bottle manufacturer Owens Illinois; glass bottle manufacturer and logistics company Encirc; glass plant engineers and contractors Tecoglas; the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London; the British Glass Manufacturers’ Confederation; Glass Technology Services and Sheffield Hallam University. Other universities, including Cambridge, Liverpool, Nottingham and Swansea are also supporting the project with their expertise.

Dave Dalton, chief executive of British Glass, one of the partners, said: “With glass furnaces running 24/7, these centres will give us the chance to carry out research that is impossible to do with continuous production facilities in the commercial world.

“And by doing that research we can ensure that the industry is fit for the future and actually leading the way in innovation and sustainability.

“Glass may have been around for thousands of years, but it has a vital role to play in the future whether in bottles, buildings or health applications. And, unlike many other materials, it can be recycled time and time again.”

If the scheme goes according to plan, work would start on the two sites later this year, and could be operational by spring 2019.

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