KTN Innovation Exchange challenge - improving the durability of furnaces used for glass melting

On behalf of Pilkington Technology Management KTN is running a challenge on its Innovation Exchange to identify innovative, robust and resilient materials for the refractory blocks in a gas/oil fired, electrically boosted, glass melting furnace.

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Pilkington Technology Management Limited (PTML), part of NSG Group, is looking for innovative solutions that could lead to approaches across their business to deliver sustainable net zero manufacturing.

Successful solution providers (industry or academia) to this challenge will be given a commercial opportunity to deliver their solution and receive support from PTML, KTN and the wider Innovate UK network.

Glass is playing an important role in society’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the effects of climate change. NSG Group aim to be the global leader in innovative high-performance glass and glazing solutions, contributing to energy conservation and generation, while working safely and ethically.

Glass production will remain energy intensive and will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, NSG Group recognise they have an obligation to society to minimise that energy use and to ensure that glass contributes maximum net benefit to sustainable development. The NSG Group has a target to reduce absolute GHG emissions by 21% compared with the 2018 level by 2030.

NSG Group operates gas and oil fired furnaces to melt the materials required to form glass. The furnaces operate at temperatures up to 1400°C. They use electrodes to electrically boost the performance of the furnace and increase production rates. The electrodes are made of molybdenum and a furnace can have up to 18 electrodes providing additional heat to the furnace to balance the heat distribution.

The refractory blocks at the base of the furnace are high grade AZS (Alumina – Zirconia – Silica), typically 40% Zirconia. They are commonly used in the glass manufacturing industry as they have high melting points and are erosion resistant.

PTML would like to find solutions for the refractory material that forms the base of the furnace; The furnaces can operate for up to 20 years but the addition of electrodes to improve the performance of the furnace leads to degradation of the refractory blocks through which the electrodes protrude.

As part of their decarbonisation strategy, PTML would like to add more electrodes within the furnace to reduce the need for gas and further increase the production of molten glass from the furnace. However, this has a detrimental effect on the refractory blocks. The block erodes due to high temperatures and flows of molten soda-lime glass.

PTML would like to find:

  • new types of robust and resilient materials that could replace or improve the existing refractory blocks in the furnace and/or
  • other solutions which would extend the life of the refractory blocks and/or
  • a process for easier replacement of the blocks without impacting the production process to extend their lifespan.
  • materials that have been proven in a similar or like environment that these would operate in the glass making process.

The new materials would need to operate at high temperatures (1400°C).

Rewards and benefits

Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to the challenger. The package may also include:

  • Support from the Catapult networks and KTN
  • Support in the implementation of a pilot or system
  • Technical support
  • Invitation to attend or present at KTN or Catapult events
  • A potential business collaboration
  • Investor introductions (if investment is required)


The deadline for applying is 5 February.  To find out more and submit an application, visit the Innovation Exchange site here.

Related programme

Innovation Exchange

Innovation Exchange

Innovate UK Innovation Exchange is a cross-sector programme supporting innovation transfer by matching industry challenges to innovative companies from other sectors. It does this by putting large businesses with technical needs in contact with companies who have the right innovative solutions, for faster development of novel solutions.


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