GLASS manufacturer Pilkington UK is making a “multi-million-pound” investment in its Merseyside facilities, one of the biggest the company has made in the country in decades, as part of a project backed by the government that is expected to save 15,000 t/y of carbon emissions.
Under the project, Pilkington will move manufacturing operations from its Watson Street site in St Helens to its Greengate site, which is also in St Helens. This is because the furnace at Watson Street, where Pilkington has operated since 1826, is approaching the end of its life.
At the Greengate site, flat glass is manufactured using the float process, which was invented by Pilkington in St Helens 70 years ago. Watson Street uses a rolled glass method. To accommodate the move, the Greengate furnace will be upgraded to enable continued flat glass production while delivering the additional output from the relocation of the Watson Street rolled glass manufacturing line. Operating with a single furnace will allow the manufacturer to cut emissions by 15,000 t/y.
In the float glass process, molten glass at about 1000°C is poured continuously from a furnace into a shallow bath of molten tin where it floats, spreads out, and forms a level surface. The thickness of the glass is controlled by the speed at which solidifying glass ribbon is drawn from the bath. It is then cooled at a controlled rate to achieve a final product.
Alternatively, in the rolled process, molten glass is passed through two water cooled rollers, with the separation between them determining the product thickness. The rollers can be textured to imprint a pattern on the glass.
Along with operations, the 74 employees at Watson Street will also move to Greengate, where staff numbers will increase to about 250.
Work will begin in August this year, with the new line expected to be operating at Greengate by August 2024. The Watson Street site will remain open until then.
Pilkington, part of NSG Group, says it does not expect glass availability to be impacted while the work is carried out.
Neil Syder, managing director of Pilkington UK, said: “This project represents one of the single biggest investments we’ve made in our UK manufacturing facilities in decades, and will ultimately secure the future of rolled glass manufacturing in the UK […] The Watson Street site has been operating since the 1800s and forms a key piece of our history. Throughout the years, the site has been instrumental in the development of different products, paving the way for a rich history of innovation in glass solutions.
“Yet this move marks a new chapter in our story that allows us to embrace more sustainable ways of making glass and continue to drive forward our vision for change, in partnership with the industry.”
Last year, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) certified the NSG Group’s aims to reduce its emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2018 levels (about 6.7m t/y). The company further aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. SBTi supports the private sector in setting science-based emissions reduction targets.
In collaboration with the industrial decarbonisation project HyNet, the glass manufacturer says it completed several “world-first” trials using low carbon biofuels and zero-carbon hydrogen to fire its glass furnace last year. In 2021, the company successfully powered a glass furnace with hydrogen instead of natural gas.
Pilkington says that moving its Watson Street operations to Greengate will secure the future of rolled glass manufacture in the UK. UK trade group British Glass says that the company is one of three flat glass manufacturers that operates in the country, with one competitor focussed entirely on producing float glass.
The UK government is supporting the project with £3.7m (US$4.6m) delivered through its Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF), which helps business cut energy costs and emissions through investment in energy efficiency and low carbon technologies. The funding forms part of a larger investment that Pilkington is making at its Greengate site.
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