Top sustainability award for project that saved SS Great Britain’s hull from rusting away

May 12, 2023

Conserving the fragile hull of Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol in a climate conscious way has earned the trust that owns it a prestigious sustainability award.

The SS Great Britain Trust was among 18 national venues to win at this week’s The Museums + Heritage Awards, which celebrate excellence in the sector. 

The Sustainable Project of the Year Award recognised the work commissioned by the trust to tackle rust on the SS Great Britain’s hull.

More than 100 years at sea had taken a toll on the metal hull, with saltwater soaking into the iron. The salt increased the rate of corrosion in the metal and led to rapid rusting.

The solution was to reduce the speed of rusting by fitting two bespoke desiccant dehumidifiers – one inside and one outside the ship’s hull.

The conservation environment conserves the hull, sealed from the outside air by the glass ‘sea’. However, this created another challenge as the trust aims to be carbon neutral by 2030, with the system being a carbon contributor.

The ship’s conservation engineer Nicola Grahamslaw has employed new systems to make the dehumidifiers more energy efficient and has already rapidly reduced the amount of carbon emissions emitted.

These energy saving upgrades help the trust continue to conserve the SS Great Britain for future generations while protecting the planet.

Nicola, who attended the award ceremony, said: “It’s a massive boost for the trust to receive this national sustainability award, and I’m honoured to be part of the team leading our reduction in carbon emissions and journey to becoming carbon neutral.

“As a charity that inspires the next generation of engineers and helps to address barriers into STEM careers, winning this award for our own conservation engineering and sustainability work is fantastic.”

Known as the world’s first great ocean liner, the SS Great Britain was by far the largest ship in the world when it was launched in 1843.

It was also the first to combine a metal hull and screw propulsion.

Having sailed around the world 32 times, travelling more than 1m miles at sea, it now rests in the same dock where Brunel built it – the Great Western Dockyard in Bristol’s Floating Harbour.

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