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From steam power to green power: The Science and Industry Museum’s visionary decarbonisation scheme saves 515 tonnes of carbon each year

The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester is delivering a sector-leading programme of decarbonisation across its globally significant site, harnessing green technology to heat its historic spaces. This visionary project will place zero carbon technologies at the heart of the visitor experience and create a sustainable museum for the future.

Work has now started to transform the museum’s environmental sustainability, improve energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions across the site, supporting the Museum’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2033 and Greater Manchester’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2038 – 12 years ahead of the national target. This has been made possible thanks to a £4.3million award from the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, delivered by Salix Finance.

The Science and Industry Museum explores how ideas can change the world, from the Industrial Revolution to today and beyond, on a globally significant industrial heritage site. In the 1800s, a well was constructed in the lower ground floor of the world’s first railway warehouse (the museum’s Grade I listed 1830 Warehouse), to harness the power of the ground water. This natural resource is now once again being utilised by the installation of a new water source heat pump network including boreholes.

Using the natural resource of the ground aquifer, an extraction borehole is being drilled in front of the grade II listed Power Hall. Using a borehole drilling rig, the drill is digging 85metres into the ground, a depth, almost equivalent to the height of Manchester Town Hall clock tower. A reinjection borehole is being drilled in the Lower Yard to a depth of 135 meters – the height of 30 double decker buses stacked on top of each other. Working with partners including the Environment Agency and United Utilities, the programme aims to use the latest technologies to save carbon.

Large plant equipment outside a building covered in white plastic sheeting Jason Locke / Science Museum Group
The borehole drilling rig at the Science & Industry Museum

Visitors to the museum may have noticed the rig, which is 12metres tall and weighs 32 tonnes. The drill is designed to make minimum vibration while creating the borehole. The water will then be extracted and directed to the 1830 Warehouse and Power Hall, down a network of pipes, where the ground source heat pump will use the water to heat the buildings.  

A painstaking exercise of temporarily removing the listed cobbles is underway which allows for pipes and cables to be fitted in new trenches underground. All the work on this historic site is being delivered with care and attention, working with specialists to ensure that the heritage of the buildings and the public spaces are preserved.  

Other environmental measures include a new electric boiler and upgrades to the Power Hall roof and windows, including fitting a sustainable form of insulation to the Power Hall roof, which is the size of a premiership football pitch. All the work the museum is delivering aims to save 515 tonnes of carbon per year, site wide. 

Person in hard hat on a roof, holding a large roof tile Jason Lock / Science Museum Group
Ben Bouch of HH Smith on the Power Hall roof

Director of the Science and Industry Museum, Sally MacDonald, says: “This is a visionary project where the original and modern meet. We want to create a sustainable museum for the future and inspire our visitors – the future generations of engineers and innovators – with the story of the next industrial revolution, powered by green energy.

“The museum includes the world's oldest surviving passenger railway station and the world's first railway goods warehouse in the heart of the world’s first industrial city, alive with science and innovation today.”

Programme Manager at Salix, Edward Clark, says: “We are extremely excited about the project works taking place in the Science and Industry Museum, including the series of building upgrades taking place in the Grade II listed Power Hall. The installation of a new substation is a key milestone within this project, which results in increased carbon savings. The new green technology will be on display in the Power Hall for visitors to see alongside the Historic Working Machinery.”

In addition, the funding will place carbon literacy and zero carbon technology at the heart of the museum’s story and visitor experience, transforming the Power Hall into a landmark symbol of the past, present, and future of industry.

The museum is on the site of the Liverpool – Manchester railway, the world’s first ever passenger railway, and in 2030 the site marks its 200th anniversary. Over the next few years, the museum is undergoing a multi-million-pound restoration programme to carry out crucial conservation work to ensure that the museum will offer a world-class experience for everyone who lives in and visits Manchester. The decarbonisation programme is the latest milestone in the museum’s redevelopment. 

Alongside the decarbonising programme the Grade II listed Power Hall has been funded by a £6million grant from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as well as funding from the Science Museum Group to carry out urgent and major repairs to the roof and a redisplay of the gallery to show how Manchester changed the world through industrial innovation. The Power Hall is due to reopen in 2023 and will be a multi-sensory experience, full of the sounds of these huge machines, the whistle and smell of steam and the incredible personal stories that are behind them. It will show how Manchester provided the power that changed the city and the world — from the way we worked and travelled to the consumer society we live in.   

Built in 1855, as the shipping shed for Liverpool Road Station, the world's first purpose-built passenger railway station, the Power Hall is one of the most beloved industrial heritage galleries in the country. It houses Europe's largest collection of working engines built and used in Manchester. Visitors will be able to see a fantastic variety of engines, from stationary engines large and small from the factories, workshops and even bakeries of industrial Manchester to towering steam locomotives made in Manchester to haul passengers and goods across the world.