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How to Improve Lab Safety While Saving Energy and Money

Maintaining a safe environment and streamlining operational costs are two top priorities for laboratories. Through energy efficient incentives and programs, labs are now able to take advantage of energy saving solutions without compromising lab safety or productivity.

by Eversource
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Problem: Laboratories consume four to six times more energy per square foot than a typical office building, making them one of the largest energy users. Energy use in a lab depends on the type of lab—biological, chemical, physical, or vivarium—and the type and quantity of equipment used.

Most of the energy used is due to the lab’s heating, ventilation, and cooling systems followed by lab equipment, but it may not be tracked at the end-use or equipment level. Additionally, many lab managers are not aware of how they can save energy, or how their energy usage compares to other labs across the nation. This lack of knowledge prevents decision makers from being able to justify the need for energy efficiency upgrades.

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However, many existing labs have the ability to reduce their energy usage by 30 percent or more. Capitalizing on these savings can allow for investment in other areas that will improve research capabilities, lab performance, and reliability.

Solution: Here are some energy saving solutions to consider when evaluating your lab’s energy consumption:

  1. Educate staff on latest equipment and best practices. Lessons learned through training opportunities will provide lab managers with the necessary tools to implement changes that can optimize productivity and efficiency.

  2. Complete a benchmarking campaign. Benchmarking provides laboratories with a comparison on how their facilities match up to similar laboratories and provides analysis on potential areas to reduce energy consumption. For example, the Labs21 Energy Benchmarking Tool is an online tool allowing whole-building and system-level comparisons of energy use with data from more than 200 laboratory facilities.

  3. Identify the optimum ventilation rates based on the type of lab and safety profile. Required ventilation rates can be affected by the density of fume hoods, chemical exposure, and the space use profile (type of lab, processes, and equipment used). For example, a biological lab’s ventilation rates will be high due to the usage of hoods, biosafety cabinets, refrigerators, and lowtemperature freezers. A detailed lab-specific assessment can help in right-sizing ventilation rates based on the particular lab type and its safety profile.

  4.  Assess the equipment’s energy output. Older equipment, while in good working condition, may be the reason behind excessive energy consumption. Many newer models of equipment are designed with energy efficiency in mind, and therefore may result in lower annual energy costs. For example, freezers get less efficient by about three percent annually as they age. This means that a ten-yearold freezer is 35 percent less efficient than a new one.

  5. Create a timeline to complete the energy efficiency enhancements. After analyzing the benchmarking data and identifying the ventilation needs and equipment output, devise a plan that focuses on energy efficient solutions and will result in the most savings. Some areas to consider include:
    • Optimize ventilation and air change rates. Older labs with low fume hood counts operate at ten air changes per hour (ACH) or above, 24 hours a day. New technologies combined with new national standards for lab ventilation allow labs to substantially reduce lab ventilation rates. A systematic reassessment of lab airflow requirements often leads to a reduction in occupied ventilation rates, dramatically reducing fan, heating, and cooling energy use.
    • Reduce fume hood exhaust: Fume hoods are often the drivers of lab ventilation rates—a single fume hood uses about the same energy annually as a single family house. Measures that reduce fume hood exhaust can produce substantial savings.
      • Sash monitoring programs or sash management systems can reduce energy loss by closing the fume hood when not in use.
      • Decommission or hibernate unused fume hoods to prevent energy loss.
    • Install efficient lighting and lighting controls. A combination of energy efficient lighting and occupancy sensors—a sensor that will automatically turn off lights when a room is not occupied—can reduce lighting costs by 30 percent while improving light quality.
    • Install efficient boilers, chillers, and steam traps. Newer, energy efficient boilers and chillers combined with variable speed pumps can significantly reduce energy costs and water usage. Additionally, efficient steam traps can make lost steam essentially non-existent.

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