The Merseyside company that’s set to change a multi-billion pound global industry

The £54 million Glass Futures project for the eco-friendly ‘rebirth’ of the glass and drinks industry is set to start in St Helens.

An image of what the completed Glass Futures facility could look like. Image: Glass Futures

A Merseyside company is working with global drinks giants responsible for brands such as Smirnoff and Guinness in a bid to make the multi-billion pound industry more environmentally sustainable.

Glass Futures is to open the world’s first accessible test and trial furnace facility as part of a £54 million project in St Helens.

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The plant is being built at the former United Glass site in Peasley Cross and is due to be completed next year.

The not-for-profit research and technology organisation is collaborating with some of the largest companies in the global glass industry to help deliver a net zero product.

Who is backing the Glass Futures project?

The project was unveiled at COP26 in Glasgow last month and Diageo, one of the world’s largest producers of wines and spirits, is firmly on board with the scheme.

John Aird, Senior Packaging Technologist for Diageo said: “We are committed to creating a sustainable future for our business and that includes looking for innovative new ways to make our bottles and packaging that reduces the carbon footprint of our products.

“We see Glass Futures as a great opportunity to develop new technology and to help deliver net zero glass manufacturing and we are delighted to support them in that mission.”

Diego has agreed on a 10-year partnership to accelerate collaboration and innovation in the glass industry.

Part of an installation about the Glass Futures project at COP26. Image: Glass Futures

In November 2020 the company announced its Society 2030: Spirit of Progress sustainability plan for a decade of action to tackle climate change, which includes environmental goals such as being net zero emissions from all direct operations by 2030.

Glass Futures will also work with the supply chain, together with academia, including researchers from the University of Liverpool, and local and central government.

What impact will the project have?

Aston Fuller, Glass Futures General Manager, said the organisation was looking to produce glass that is ‘thinner and stronger’ and suitable for reuse.

He said: “You have these huge multinational brands such as Diageo, Hineken and Carlsberg competing in the marketplace and Glass Futures is helping them work together.

“This venture has real global significance. People are collaborating on sustainability.

“St Helens is really the historical home of glass.”

An image of what the completed Glass Futures facility could look like. Image: Glass Futures

He said the company was also going to be working with researchers on a government-funded project to map out the industry post-Brexit.

Mr Aston said: “The float glass process was first pioneered by the Pilkington brothers in St Helens and used worldwide. We now have the skills to forge sustainability in this country.

“The reality is 90% of domestic glass is made and used in the UK, if we can equip people locally with knowledge about sustainability too there is a global market for this.”

What will it mean for the region?

Councillor David Baines, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Portfolio Holder for Climate Emergency and Renewable Energy and Leader of St Helens Borough Council spoke at COP26.

“The Glass Futures facility will develop and demonstrate new technologies for reducing environmental impact and improving the productivity of glass manufacturing processes, plus potentially that of other foundation industries.

“Ranging from new raw materials and novel glass compositions, to alternative fuel sources and furnace designs, to waste heat recovery and carbon capture, Glass Futures will support our aim to become net Zero Carbon by 2040 – a full decade ahead of the rest of the country.

“What we’re doing here will benefit St Helens, the Liverpool City Region, and the UK for decades to come – and will once again make the world sit up and marvel at the pioneering spirit that we know never left our region.”

He said the region had an opportunity to “catalyse the rebirth of an industry – that puts the town on the international innovation map once again”.

“This is about reinventing global glass production innovation back in St Helens – in a 21st century setting,” he added.

Project delivery is being led by developer and investor Network Space on behalf of a partnership created between Glass Futures, the global glass supply chain, Network Space, St Helens Borough Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The project will be funded through a mix of public and private investment.

It has been awarded a £9m grant from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and secured a £15m UKRI grant to support the installation of a ‘globally unique, experimental furnace and state of the art infrastructure capable of melting 30 tonnes of glass per day in a safe experimental space’.

Glass sector companies will also contribute a further £20 million in resource, time and equipment to support the project.