Our journey to a greener future

03 November 2021

Blog News

03 November 2021

Blog News

Discover the great strides the SS Great Britain Trust has taken towards carbon neutrality, leading the way with sustainable conservation engineering.

The SS Great Britain Trust cares for Brunel’s ocean liner, saving and conserving a vital part of the nation’s heritage.  The SS Great Britain is the world’s first iron-hulled, screw-propelled ship, and was the largest and most-technologically advanced at the time of her launch in 1843.

Today, the Trust uses pioneering conservation systems to protect the fragile iron hull and is taking massive steps forward to reduce energy use, with a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

As a leading maritime museum which undertakes major ongoing conservation of the ship and 70,000 historic objects, we pledge to pioneer energy efficiencies and share new best practice globally.

SSGB Conservation Engineer, Nicola Grahamslaw
The SS Great Britain’s iron hull
Indoor Climate Control Specialist, Munters

The SS Great Britain Trust’s conservation engineer, Nicola Grahamslaw, an award-winning STEM ambassador, leads projects and upgrades to reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint. Nicola was appointed as the Ship’s Conservation Engineer in 2018 and also volunteers with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) as a STEM ambassador, mentor and local co-ordinator.

In 2019, we declared a climate emergency, committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Since then, we have identified and targeted our biggest contributors to emissions, adapting our systems to significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

Our conservation method is unique – it was the first system in the world of its kind. We use two bespoke desiccant dehumidifiers to prevent corrosion by regulating the environment surrounding the ship’s iron hull, sealed with a ‘glass sea’.

These dehumidifiers are vital to our conservation of the ship, but also our biggest source of carbon emissions. By making them more energy efficient, we can continue to conserve our heritage for future generations while also protecting our planet’s future.

The modular design of our systems allows us to adjust equipment as new technology develops.

  1. Last year, we upgraded our sensors and software to help us get a more accurate picture of energy usage and better control the equipment which conserves the ship and our collections.
  2. This year, we invested in more energy efficient fan technology to circulate dried air around the ship and the dry dock.
  3. The belt-driven fan that has circulated air around the dry dock since the dehumidifiers were first installed in 2005 has been replaced by a new direct-drive fan grid – this upgrade will reduce emissions by 30% in that area.
  4. Later this year we plan to upgrade the other fan – that circulates the air around the ship interior, similarly, providing a 30% energy saving. The new fans are digitally controlled, and seamlessly integrate with our sensors and software.
  5. In October 2021, with the help of a WECA Green Business Grant, we installed a heat recovery system for the desiccant on both dehumidifiersThis will work alongside our existing air heat recovery pumps to deliver a reduction of around 25% in our gas consumption.  

The SS Great Britain Trust is focused on making changes that have the greatest impact, optimising current equipment to minimise energy usage. The new fan grids alone will have an average annual energy saving equivalent to driving an electric car around the world twenty times!  

Supplier of the fans and dehumidifiers, indoor climate control specialist, Munters, worked across two days to install the first fan grid back in May. Greg Frazer, Service Sales Engineer at Munters, said:  

“Through the retrofit of these EC fans, we will ensure cutting edge technology is installed into the original dehumidifier. This brings the system totally up-to-date with minimal disruption to the customer, as well as ensuring optimal performance.” 


The choice to adapt existing equipment favours a whole-life approach. We not only consider operating energy consumption but also expected operating life and embodied carbon of components.    

Upgrades to the sensors, software, fans, and the installation of a heat recovery system, will have a continued and sustained effect on our emissions. The updates allow us to collect and analyse data, helping us understand our operations and make data-driven, informed decisions when planning further improvements. We will be able to review our energy use around the site and fine-tune the system controls to improve efficiency.  

The SS Great Britain Trust had already taken great strides towards sustainability well before declaring a climate emergency in 2019. We ensured a greener site by generating some of our own power through solar panels, introducing sustainable travel incentives and using plant-based, Vegware products across the site’s catering outlets.  

Looking forward, we will be continuing to challenge ourselves to conserve the SS Great Britain in a more energy efficient way. By staying up to date with the development of new technology, we continue to lead the way for sustainable conservation engineering.   

Our Conservation Engineer, Nicola Grahamslaw

Nicola Grahamslaw, our Conservation Engineer, researches new ways both to reduce our carbon footprint now, and to look after the ship in the future. 

As a leading maritime museum pioneering conservation system, we pledge to also pioneer energy efficiencies and share what we’re learning along the way as widely as we can globally. 
We actively participate in discussions with others looking to reduce their emissions such as the Bristol Climate Leaders group, the Institute of Conservation’s Environmental Sustainability Network, National Historic Ships and the Arts Council. 

By taking part in these forums we can both help others benefit from what we have learned along the way on our journey so far, and take inspiration from others, expanding our network of contacts to call upon for advice and guidance on our next steps. We stand a much better chance of making a difference on a larger scale if we work together.’  

Find out more about the amazing work Nicola is doing with the SS Great Britain here and watch her walk through our journey to becoming carbon neutral in the video below. 

Author: Ella Calland

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