Top 9 Actions to Take in the Lab to Improve Energy Efficiency


Improve energy effeciencyDid you know that laboratories are one of the largest energy-consuming sectors in the country? In fact, after data centers, labs are widely recognized as consuming more energy per square foot than any other sector. However, taking the proper actions can significantly reduce the amount of energy your lab uses. Below, we’ve outlined nine actions you can take (starting today!) to improve energy efficiency in the lab.

1. Close fume hood sashes when not in use.

Closing your fume hood sash is one of the most impactful things you can do to save energy in the laboratory. Variable air velocity fume hoods can consume around 3.5 homes worth of energy per day. Whereas constant air velocity fume hoods use the same amount of energy whether they’re open or closed, variable air velocity fume hoods, when open, use a whopping 110 kWh/day.

Fume hoods have fans within their exhaust systems that help air flow through the lab and the fume hood itself. When a sash is open, these fans suck in air and exhaust a lot of the lab’s heated or cooled air. The constant reheating and recooling of air that will only get sucked in again by the fume hood consumes a lot of energy. By shutting the sash, you’ll reduce the amount of air being wasted, thus saving a great deal of energy.

2. Put autoclaves in standby mode when not in use & only run them when full

Autoclaves consume 84 kWh per day. Specifically, large, steam-jacketed, or medical-grade autoclaves are massive energy consumers. Ensure you’re putting them into energy-conserving or standby mode when not in use, and only run them when they are full.

3. Set ultra-low temperature freezers to -70°C instead of -80°C

Ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers, particularly older models, can consume about 25-30 kWh of energy per day, which is as much energy as an American home uses in a day. Setting ULT freezers, particularly those that are 10-15 years old, to -70°C instead of -80°C will reduce this energy use by 30%.
To learn more about optimizing the sustainability of freezer management in laboratories, see the Freezer Challenge.

4. Turn off equipment when not in use

There is a lot of variability in how much energy your lab equipment consumes. Equipment that has big fan components (like biosafety cabinets), equipment that has heating or cooling elements (like drying ovens, incubators, or water baths), and equipment that pulls a vacuum (like vacuum pumps) tend to be the highest energy consumers in the lab. Turning this equipment off when it’s not in use or on nights and weekends can greatly impact energy usage. Plug load makes up about 20% of energy consumption in a lab. For U.S. labs, reducing plug load by just 10% is the equivalent of taking around 650,000 cars off the road.

There are various ways to ensure equipment is turned off. You can simply unplug it or invest in power strips to make it easy to turn multiple small pieces of equipment off all at once. If you need specific equipment to be ready for use when you walk into the lab, use outlet timers; this will ensure equipment auto-turns off at night and auto-turns on at the beginning of the day so that it’s ready to be used as soon as you walk in the door.

5. Properly maintain cold storage 

Preventative maintenance can help keep cold storage running efficiently. Here are a few tips:

  • Clean heat exchange coils and clean or replace filters to help make sure cold storage can exchange heat efficiently. This will save 10% of energy.
  • Ensure you’re defrosting regularly so that space is used efficiently and so you don’t get ice buildup (which can make it so the door doesn’t shut properly – a common issue in laboratories).
  • Check door seals. Cracks and tears can let hot air in and make the compressor run more to maintain low temperatures.

6. Share equipment among labs and turn off or unplug duplicate equipment

Equipment sharing has a similar energy-saving impact as turning off equipment when it’s not in use. “Sharing” equipment can be useful even for labs that are using their own equipment. Here’s where scheduling comes in handy. Figuring out how often your lab uses equipment can allow you to optimize the time it’s in use. Say your lab has two HPLCs that are only used, on average, 40% of the time. Through simple scheduling, you can consolidate use on the first and unplug the second. You’ll save energy and have the second HPLC ready to bring back online if the first one breaks.

Shared resource or instrumentation facilities are beneficial for universities, where bigger pieces of high energy-consuming equipment are in a shared lab. Everyone has access, reducing the need for multiple labs to have to buy their own.

7. Turn off the lights when the last person leaves the lab

Lighting makes up around 15% of energy in the lab. Simply turning off the lights when you leave the lab or support rooms can have a significant impact. Turning off the lights during the day when ambient light is sufficient can even further reduce energy consumption. A small LED task light can provide additional illumination if needed and uses much less energy than overhead lights.

8. Utilize green chemistry techniques 

The ACS Green Chemistry Institute is a great resource for learning about green chemistry techniques. Their guide on designing for energy efficiency offers two main points that can help improve efficiency in your lab:

  1. Look for reaction conditions that are at ambient temperatures and ambient pressures.
  2. One of the big places, specifically in organic chemistry, where a lot of energy is consumed is removing solvents or the purification of materials after the reaction is done. If you can design your chemistry to minimize the need for these steps, then you will be helping to save energy in your lab.

Additionally, Beyond Benign, MilliporeSigma, and Mygreenlab have an updated comprehensive teaching guide for undergraduate laboratories featuring green chemistry alternatives to traditional organic chemistry experiments. You can download the guide here.

9. Share your sustainability efforts with others in your lab, building, department, or organization. Encourage others to change their behavior!

Sharing your successes and best practices in the lab is a crucial element to improving efficiency. Be sure to share how you are reducing energy as often and as broadly as you can!

Let us know how you’re saving energy by sharing this on LinkedIn or reply in the comments.

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