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Plans unveiled for £50m twin centres of excellence for glass in the north

Plans have been announced for twin centres of excellence for glass in the north of England by Glass Futures.

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

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

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.”

Glass Futures partners and supporters are lobbying MPs and ministers at a House of Lords reception today (Feb 7th). The event is hosted by former Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) minister Lord David Prior and will be attended by current BEIS ministers, senior civil servants, and representatives of the Northern Powerhouse, Innovate UK, Liverpool City Region, St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council and several universities, amongst others.

Other partners already involved in Glass Futures are 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.

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

Research there would concentrate on raw materials and alternative energy sources to reduce carbon and other emissions by over 80%.

The Leeds site would focus on the ‘cold’ side of glass production, with research into coatings, structure and the use of glass in medicine. The exact location of the Leeds site has yet to be determined, but is expected to be within the city.

If the project gets approved, work would start on the two sites later this year and be operational in spring 2019.

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.”

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