Much of the literature on energy efficiency and reducing energy usage is directed at residential homes, but laboratories are one of the largest energy-consuming sectors in the United States. Luckily, many of the same techniques used on residential properties for reducing energy are just as effective in a laboratory setting as they are at home.
So, what can scientists and researchers do to improve energy efficiency in the lab?
Turn off all equipment when not in use
This might seem like common sense, but it’s easy to overlook the power that lab equipment can draw while it’s sitting in an idle state. Lab settings already experience a higher plug load due to the use of computers and other equipment. Office space will usually see a plug load of 0.5 - 1 watt per square foot. A lab will often see plug loads of between 2-20 watts per square foot. Additionally, anything above 10 watts per square foot also generates heat, requiring additional cooling and increasing the lab’s overall power draw.
Shutting off all the equipment isn’t always possible, especially for freezers or other devices that require constant power, but for anything that doesn’t, shutting it off when not in use can help cut down on energy waste.
Keep fume hood sashes closed
Fume hoods are essential in any situation where ventilation is necessary, but it’s easy to forget to close the doors when you’re moving back and forth between procedures and experiments. This can contribute to energy loss because as long as the sash is open, the fume hood is still drawing in air and moving it outdoors. When running, a fume hood can consume as much power as 3.5 homes. Additionally, it makes it more difficult to moderate the temperature within the lab because it’s consuming climate-controlled air, making the HVAC system work even harder.
Thankfully, this is an easy energy drain to fix. Simply ensure that the fume hood sash is closed whenever it’s not in use.
Only run autoclaves when full
Autoclaves and other sterilisation equipment use heat, water, and pressure to clean and remove bacteria and other contaminants from non-porous surfaces like stainless steel and glass. These tools are essential for keeping costs down, but they can also drive utility costs up because of the sheer amount of power necessary to keep them running. Autoclaves can consume up to 84 kWh per day, even when not operational. Running them half-empty increases that power waste, because it increases the number of cycles necessary to sterilize all the necessary equipment.
Shut off all autoclaves when they’re not in use, and only run them when they’re full to optimise energy efficiency. Upgrading existing autoclaves to new and more energy-efficient models can also help to cut down on waste, but that may not be the opinion depending on the budget of the lab.
Use smart outlets to monitor energy usage
For the casual observer, a glance at a lab setup isn’t enough to tell which devices are using more power than others. Is the autoclave drawing more or less electricity than the air compressor or the fume hood? One of the most commonly cited suggestions for reducing energy waste in the home is to install smart power strips or outlets to allow the homeowner or tenant to actively monitor power usage. Not only is this vital for improving energy efficiency, but it can also help to determine if there are appliances or devices that are consuming a lot of energy when they shouldn’t be. While power strips likely aren’t an option in a lab setting, installing smart outlets can help monitor overall energy usage and make it easier to determine what devices are causing the worst drain.
When used correctly, a smart outlet can help reduce overall energy consumption by between 1% and 4.58% annually. They’re also usually fairly inexpensive, making them a budget-friendly tool for
Monitor and maintain cold storage
Temperature-controlled storage options are unavoidable in most laboratory settings, but without regular maintenance, they can also become one of the facility’s biggest power drains. The heating exchange coils tend to gather dust and debris, and if left uncleaned, can increase a fridge or freezer’s energy consumption by up to 10%. Faulty seals around doors can lead to increased energy consumption, and could even make it difficult to maintain the interior temperature, putting delicate experiments at risk.
The easiest way to prevent this problem is to monitor and maintain cold storage facilities. Clean them when they get dusty, repair them when they break and monitor interior temperatures to ensure that they’re maintaining the kind of climate control necessary for the lab.
Energy efficiency in laboratory settings can make an enormous difference when it comes to reducing utility costs and the lab’s carbon footprint. Most of these changes don’t require any sort of significant investment. Simply changing the way researchers use the facility is often enough to cut down on energy waste. Something as simple as cleaning the heat exchange pipes on a deep freezer or shutting off the lab’s lights after everyone goes home can reduce energy waste.
Author: Emily Newton is the Editor-In-Chief ofRevolutionized, a magazine exploring innovations in science and industry that shares ideas to promote a better tomorrow