Glass Futures opens £54m St Helens facility
Place North West got a sneak peek at the 165,000 sq ft research hub, described by Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram as a “world leader”.
After more than 10 years in the pipeline, Bowmer + Kirkland has completed the facility with the building expected to be fully operational this time next year.
Standing tall next to St Helens RFC’s Totally Wicked Stadium, Glass Futures’ ‘centre of excellence’ will soon house a low-carbon production furnace.
The building, being developed by Network Space and forward-funded by Abrdn, will also provide areas and equipment to carry out research trials aimed at advancing processes and techniques in glass manufacturing. The specialist kit will include an experimental furnace that can melt 30 tonnes of glass per day.
The whole initiative is being driven by Glass Futures, an organisation that brings together the global glass industry to drive innovation, whose ultimate aim is to decarbonise the glass industry.
Glass Futures general manager Aston Fuller told Place that the standout feature of the centre is how the different elements work together.
The creation of labs, offices, and co-working space has created what he described as an “innovation ecosystem”.
“It follows this principle that by bringing all these different things into one place, you can actually create something that’s an inspirational environment to work in and be part of,” he said.
An accessible walkway surrounding the research area adds to this ecosystem, enabling educational tours to inspire future generations.
But what does Glass Futures mean for the future of the built environment?
The facility operates across every industrial sector that uses and manufactures glass. There will also be a lot of areas that people would not necessarily think about, such as glazing and PV panels, according to Fuller.
“If you look at the future of PV in buildings, it can’t exist without innovations in glass and glass fibre.”
Fuller highlighted two key ways in which the research at the centre will change the built environment: sustainable manufacturing and technologies.
“We’re looking at digital technologies and a huge part of the thing that we’re investigating is alternative and low-carbon fuels that can support decarbonisation”, he explained.
Glass Futures secured a £7.1m contract in 2020 to investigate alternatives to gas in glass production.
Following this, Glass Futures has contributed £20m towards the £54m project, along with unnamed investors.
UKRI provided the scheme with a £15m grant for the development of a low-carbon furnace, while Liverpool City Region’s Combined Authority contributed £10m from its ‘Build Back Better’ fund to support construction.
Aew is the architect for the project, while Tyler Grange is in charge of landscape plans. Spawforths is the planning consultant. Walker Sime is project manager and QS. Hoare Lee is the sustainability advisor and Rachel Hacking is advising on ecology.