Glassmaking has been a part of the fabric of St Helens for more than 200 years and now a new £54m facility will spearhead a net zero carbon future for the sector. Tony McDonough reports
A new £54m research and technology hub that will lead the decarbonisation of glassmaking has opened its doors in St Helens.
Glass Futures is located in a town that has been a global centre for glass production for more than 200 years. A hi-tech furnace in the 165,000 sq ft facility will be capable of producing up to 30 tonnes of glass per day in an experimental research furnace.
Creating 80 jobs, funding for Glass Futures includes £9m from Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, £15m from the Government’s UK Research and Innovation fund and tens of millions from glass sector companies. Work started in February 2022.
St Helens has long been associated with glassmaking. In 1773, the British Caste Plate Glass Company was established at Ravenhead, now part of the town. In 1826 St Helens Crown Glass Company was founded by the Pilkington and Greenhall families.
In 1845 the name of the business was changed to Pilkington Brothers and the Pilkington name became famous across the world. In June 2006, Japanese glassmaker Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG) completed a £1.8bn takeover of the firm.
A not-for-profit membership organisation, Glass Futures will connect the global glass industry and academia to deliver R&D and innovation. It will aim to re-engineer glassmaking and transform into a sustainable zero-carbon industry.
Chief executive Richard Katz said: “I don’t let go in a hurry and a decade after the idea of Glass Futures was first conceived that dream has come to fruition.
“Removing carbon emissions from global manufacturing is our world’s greatest challenge, and we need to change how we do things.
“The glass industry and the wider foundation industries (ceramics, steel, metal, chemicals, paper, and cement) need to decarbonise, to use energy sustainably and move away from natural gas as their main energy source.
“That’s why we exist and it’s thanks to the ongoing support of our founders, members, funders and supporters that we’re standing here today – but this really is just the start.
At the launch event, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, added: “Building on St Helens’ proud legacy in the glassmaking industry, Glass Futures will help retain the borough’s position as a global centre of excellence.
“I have supported Glass Futures right from the very start, not just because it’s a great project but because it ticks so many boxes for us: decarbonisation of industry, clean energy, new well-paid jobs in a scheme that will make us a world leader.”