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Inside the Lab Technology and innovation, Software and hardware, Quality assurance and quality control

Building Your Sustainable Dream Lab

Many dream of achieving the perfect balance between laboratory efficiency and laboratory sustainability. But often times perfect can be the enemy of good, and those first steps towards conscious lab management are the ones that start a full sprint towards lab harmony with the planet. Below you’ll find expert Andy Evans’ three pieces of kit to take huge strides to laboratory sustainability.

1. Fume hood

The first piece of equipment to focus on is fume hoods. I would get fume hoods with high-quality variable air volume controllers to ensure that the lab was always using exactly the power they needed and no more. I would also make sure users followed best practice by closing the fume hoods after use.

2. ULT freezer

I would have a ULT freezer that I had independently tested. I’d want it to have good cooldown and door opening recovery times and I’d want the display to accurately reflect the freezer’s interior temperature.

Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers will sacrifice temperature performance for better-looking energy consumption figures. When they present their data, the fine print includes temperature variation – which can be as great as plus or minus nine degrees! That means, when the freezer purports to be at -80 °C, it may actually only be at -71 °C. That’s great for your running costs, but not for your samples.

All of my cold storage, from fridges to freezers, would have digital temperature displays and solid drawers. Some laboratorians need to have their freezer doors open for quite a long time, so solid drawers are a wise investment because they significantly reduce the speed at which the temperature rises. I’ve done my own experiments with long door opening times; the interior temperature of the freezer with no drawers went up by 30 degrees, whereas the freezer with solid drawers saw a maximum increase of only nine degrees.

3. Drying cabinet

I would make sure I had a well-insulated, energy-efficient drying cabinet. Glassware drying cabinets are one of the greatest sources of energy consumption in the lab – so much so that a 100-liter drying cabinet at 75 °C uses 10 times the energy of a 600-liter ULT freezer at -80 °C.

Because these pieces of equipment aren’t complicated, technical, or expensive, they’re often overlooked as a potential source of energy wastage. But the older designs are essentially just metal boxes with massive heating elements inside – and they’re not particularly safe; if you touch the front (where they lose most of their heat) while wearing plastic gloves, you’ll melt them. Manufacturers’ stickers melt off. If you stand them on a polyvinyl floor, they crack and destroy the floor. That’s how bad they are. Luckily, there are newer systems that use half the energy of older ones – or less. The savings are so vast that, a few years ago, the UK’s University of Oxford replaced 155 drying cabinets in one fell swoop to increase their sustainability.

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About the Author
Andy Evans

Director of Green Light Laboratories Ltd, UK.

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