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As Excellence projects go, the MRC Epidemiology’s Nordic ultra-low temperature (ULT) storage system, set to be rolled-out in Waterbeach, is extremely impressive in both its ambition and granularity of data presented in its reports. At the outset, the aims of the project were to reduce the energy consumption of their current storage system, and to reduce the environmental impact of travelling to their current storage site in Bishop Stortford. 

Why did they undertake the project?

The context for the project is that storing processed human blood and urine samples for research at the MRC Epidemiology Unit requires ULT refrigerated units that are both expensive in set up and running costs.  Additionally, visiting their current storage site at Bishop Stortford requires a 50-mile return trip. 

In addition to replacing some of their older New Brunswick units with newer Eppendforf models, the MRC was awarded £715,000 from the University's Carbon Reduction Fund to part-fund the installation of a Nordic ULT modular storage system at their new facility in Waterbeach. 

The Nordic system is superior to conventional standalone ULT freezers, is more energy efficient, has a better space utilisation, and is more robust and reliable. They estimated that the Nordic system would have an annual electricity saving of 300,000 kWh, a carbon emission saving of 70tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), and a cost saving of £43,200 over the current Brunswick model ULT freezers. Furthermore, the close proximity of the Waterbeach site to their Unit at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus reduces travel to 20 miles per return journey, thus reducing fuel and vehicle emission costs.

What have they achieved?

As of February 2022, they successfully purchased and installed five Eppendorf ULT freezers and completed their assessment of energy comparison. Their data monitoring demonstrated that the mean daily energy consumption of a new Eppendorf ULT freezer is 77% lower than an older New Brunswick model (4.67kWh vs 20.46kWh).

They also have clearly demonstrated the project’s financial and environmental savings of moving their storage site location show in the table below.



They continue to work on the provision of a Nordic ULT update, and the Sustainability Team is excited to see what future savings the team’s data reveals. In this vein, their Laboratory Manager Steve Knighton wrote that:

“The successful completion of the project will be a great step forward for the Unit and University in the move toward a more environmentally sustainable model for biological sample storage”.

In addition to the benefits identified at the outset, they have also seen some valuable co-benefits to the project. Although discussions are at a relatively early stage, they have been talking to neighbouring Units to share the services of First Aid trained personnel in case of assistance being required. They will also have the capacity to rent freezer storage space to other potential users in the University, and thus offset some of the initial outlay and operational costs of the Waterbeach storage unit. Lastly, Solar panels are present on the roof of their unit in Enterprise 2 which contribute energy to the unit.

The Green Impact Team itself said it best in their Green Impact project report, that ‘the ULT freezer centralisation programme is an extremely ambitious yet thoroughly rewarding venture, and the Unit can be inherently proud of its recognition as a flagship project for the MRC Epidemiology Unit and the University of Cambridge’ 

Congratulation to all involved, and watch this space for future updates.