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Environment and Energy

 

Theme-specific guidance for making your laboratories more effective and efficient. Click on the drop-down boxes.

Scientific Equipment

Scientific equipment is vital to many lab practices. As well as requiring significant investment from research grants and departmental budgets to buy and maintain, it uses a lot of energy and resources throughout its lifetime.

For more common multi-purpose lab equipment, click here to read E&E's Lab Equipment Guide.

Ultra Low Temperature Storage 

Ultra Low Temperature (ULT) Freezers typically operate between -70 and -80°C, all day, every day. This makes them among the most energy-intensive pieces of equipment in a typical laboratory. Their efficiency worsens dramatically over their lifetime. Old units typically consume 16-28 kWh per day, roughly twice the average daily consumption of a U.K household (9 kWh/day). 

What you can do:

  • Conduct an audit of your ULT storage to identify if space is being used effectively, evaluate maintenance practices and help with future-proofing. The Clinical School did this in 2016. Read about their findings for inspiration in this case study.

  • Read and implement E&E's freezer management guide.

  • Find out if your freezer is over 10 years old. If it is, you could replace it for a much more energy efficient model with funding support from E&E's Equipment Replacement Programme.

Drying Cabinets

Mainly used for drying washed media, cabinets waste a lot heat and therefore energy. A study undertaken at the Department of Chemistry found that a typical drying cabinet operating at 75°C consumes around 18 kWh per day. They then worked with drying cabinet suppliers to design a new cabinet which is well insulated, has better temperature control and integrated timer. The models developed use 50% less energy and are now on the market.

What you can do:

  • Put your cabinet on a simple timer tuned to your lab's washing routine.
  • Many drying cabinets are controlled by 'simmerstats' which turn the heating element on and off on a frequency basis. Talk to your Facilities team about easy alterations to replace the simmerstat with a thermostat, which will allow you to tune down the temperature required to do the job.
  • Synchronise washing and loading schedules and make sure cabinets are fully loaded, allowing them to be off for longer when empty.
  • Find out if your drying cabinet is over 5 years old. If it is, you could replace it for a new energy efficient model with funding support from E&E's Equipment Replacement Programme.

 

Fume Cupboards/Hoods

Shut the Sash

A fume cupboard running continuously with its sash fully open can use up to £2,000 of electricity and gas each year. Closing the sash reduces energy consumption by over 50% in variable air volume (VAV) fume cupboards. 

Sash closure in constant air volume (CAV) fume cupboards will not impact on energy use. However, it will improve lab safety by protecting against explosion or fume leakage and good habits transfer between labs. 

Harvard University's Shut the Sash program has been running since 2005 and program saves more energy than any other behavioral program there. Read more about Cambridge's Shut the Sash campaign, download posters and order stickers

See the Lab Building & Services drop-down section for more on optimising fume cupboard control.

Other

Autoclaves, Microbiological Safety Cabinets, Water Baths, PCR Machines, Centrifuges

Many items of equipment (e.g. drying ovens, some autoclaves) have a base power consumption which means that their total consumption does not increase in line with loading. Hence, it can be more energy efficient to batch small job/loads, rather than running many times at low loadings, or to use smaller units more frequently.

Plant Growth LED Lighting

The Department of Plant Sciences is working with industry to develop LED lighting for growing research-grade plants. Energy reductions are two-fold as less power is needed to run the lighting and less waste heat is produced that needs cooling. The project was highly commended at the 2015 Green Gown Awards and plant growth chambers and cabinets continue to be retrofitted. Read more about the project in this case study.

Equipment Sharing Project

Did you know that over 3000 pieces of equipment and around 50 Small Research Facilities across the University are available to use through the University's Equipment Sharing Project? Search the database for the equipment you need and you may not need to use up more research grant funding on new equipment after all. Reduce the need for new equipment

Equipment Disposal

After Reduce in the waste hierarchy, is Reuse or Recycle an option for your unwanted equipment? University of Cambridge encourages the use of WARPit - a free online marketplace for redistributing resources legally and conveniently within the University. Read our guidelines here.

To Dispose of old, broken electrical equipment you will need to go down the WEEE (Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment) route. Environment & Energy can help with this too.

Water

Steps to reducing water usage in your lab:

Upgrade from a lab water bath to a Bead Bath: thermal metallic beads can be used to replace water in any standard depth, non-circulating and non-shaking lab water bath. Beads can also be used to replace aluminum blocks in dry baths and ice in ice buckets. The need for water is removed entirely, the equipment experiences less wear and uses less energy. Labs in Department of Medicine and Cambridge Institute for Medical Research have already converted. Lab Armor is available from several Cambridge approved suppliers.

Tackle your leaks before they tackle you: A one drop per second leak adds up to 4.4m3 of water in a year. You could run your washing machine for 50 cycles with that.

Monitor at the Meter: Find out how much water your lab is responsible for by finding where it is metered. You can't manage what you can't measure.

Type 3 - Reverse Osmosis

For all non-critical lab applications including glass-washing, water baths, autoclaves and plant growth rooms. It is also clean enough for the majority of chemical work and the preparation of solutions and reagents.

Type 3 is the feedwater for treatment systems that produce Type 2 and Type 1 water.

To generate Type 3 water in lab-useable quantities, mains water needs pre-treating to remove chlorine, then around 75% of the feedwater is rejected from the membranes to drain. The larger the scale of Type 3 water production, the better the lower the rejection ratio.

Type 2 - Pure (De-Ionised)

Used in reagent and buffer preparation and is a standard supply for various lab equipment.

Type 2 water is produced by de-ionising Type 3 water, either electrically or with cartridges. Electrical De-Ionisation (EDI) is more cost effective over time if usage is over ~80 litres/day.

Type 1 - Ultra-Pure

This water is inherently unstable, produced by UV treating Type 2 water to oxidise organic carbon and break down microbiological organisms. It can damage equipment and is for critical high-end applications only.

 

Waste

Returns Policy

Various chemicals and supplies companies offer returns policies.

For example Fisher Scientific offer a collection and recycling service for products with a Fisher Chemicals label, including: 2.5L glass and plastic coated glass bottles (Winchesters),2.5L and 1L plastic liquids bottles (Mausers), stainless steel returnable drums and IBCs (1000L, 200L, 30L, 25L and variotainers of various sizes).

STARLAB offers free recycling collection of its TipOne pipette tip racking system once used. The rack, the refill wafers, the refill's spacers and top and bottom shells, are all made from polypropylene and can all go into the same dedicated STARLAB collection bags/bins. Collection points are available across the University sites and new ones are easy to set up on request. Note ONLY STARLAB products can be collected and recycled in this way. 

Polystyrene Shipping boxes

Polystyrene shipping boxes are useful to keep hold of for conveying cold samples between facilities for example, but are not recyclable in regular Mixed Recycling collections.

New England Biolabs have a well-established NEB Shipping Box Recycling Programme, which allows you to FREEPOST return the shipping box to NEB. They can then re-use them for future deliveries. They also donate to the Woodland Trust for every box. However bioproducts company Promega no longer push their send-back scheme after life cycle analysis in 2017 revealed that more carbon emissions are released from returning the box than the customer reusing or recycling locally and Promega supplying a new box!

On the Addenbrooke's hospital site, Hutchison/MRC Research Centre has Styromelt machine which melts down the polystyrene into blocks 95% smaller, ready to be recycled into park benches and other products. Addenbrooke's hospital itself has a mechanical polystyrene compactor. Both facilities can accept waste polystyrene from other departments by prior arrangement.

 

For Equipment Disposal, refer to the Lab Equipment drop-down section.

Chemicals & Materials

Laboratory chemicals have environmental and health implications throughout their lifecycle, from manufacture to use in the lab and ultimately disposal. Several straightforward steps can be taken to minimise the negative impact of the chemicals you use in your lab.

Reduce (Hazardous) Chemical Usage

  • It saves money by reducing the quantities purchased
  • It improves safety, especially where hazardous chemicals are replaced by less hazardous ones
  • Environmental damage is reduced, since energy is saved and waste is minimised

How?

Seek safer alternatives to the most hazardous chemicals like Ethidium Bromide (investigate ‘SYBR Safe’ and ‘MegaFluor’) and Diethyl Ether (investigate Tert-Butyl methyl ether). The Substitution Support Portal is a good place to start.

Consider what chemical quantities are required before purchasing, especially if the chemicals have short use-by dates.

In teaching, could simulations as pre-lab exercises reduce the chemical consumption requirements in live experiments of students?

In research, could the amount of solvent used to clean glassware be reduced?

Keep Track of your Chemicals - ChemInventory SystemScreenshot courtesy of ChemInventory Ltd.

  • Prevent order duplication
  • Reduce incidences of bought chemicals being forgotten and unused before their expiry date
  • Increased auditability fosters more effective health and safety compliance with regulations and requirements 

Use of the University's ChemInventory System is a requirement and users are encouraged to make their databases visible to other groups and departments. By searching the inventory researchers have found stocks of chemicals that they need in neighbouring groups and simply ask to use some, instead of needlessly buying in more. Experiments are not held up waiting for delivery, trials of new methodologies are lower cost to researchers and departments keep within their licensing limits. FAQs on how to use the system are available on the Safety Office website.

Common Lab Supplies - Vending Machines

Vending machines containing common supplies from some of the University's main materials suppliers are being currently being trialled. There are a broad range of potential benefits including: direct smart charging of groups for their common consumables; freeing up of space formerly used for storing supplies for active research; lean supply allowing timely deliveries, maximising efficiency and miniising delivery miles.

Several large consumables suppliers are currently trialling vending machines at the Department of Medicine and Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

 

Building & Services

For laboratories to run effectively, the buildings they are part of need to provide the correct infrastructure. Appropriate ventilation, heating and cooling, containment measures, lab gas and so on are all requirements. To this end, laboratories cannot be regarded in isolation and there are significant improvements and savings to be found from casting your eye outside of the lab door.

Steps to take:

 
 
  • Establish who controls what.  Knowing the right person to contact about the lab's operational heating and cooling hours, altering the air exchange rate or even fixing a leaky window is an important first step. Is it your Principal Technician, Facilities Supervisor, Estate Management, external contractor?
    • Interrogate the Building Management System (BMS). The majority of University buildings have a BMS, though their capabilities vary dramatically. As usage of buildings evolves over time, BMS settings often become out-dated, ending up not providing suitable conditions, producing conflicts between systems and usually needlessly wasting energy.
    • Zone your lab space and centralise services where possible. Collecting energy hungry, heat producing equipment away from lab benches allows the conditions to be tailored to be most effective and efficient for each. Centralised autoclaving, washing and cold storage facilities also offer significant energy savings due to economies of scale.
    • Make the most of refurbishment. Commission and optimise. In the rush to finish a lab refurbishment and allow the users to move back in, the checks to ensure that 'everything works' are all too often regarded as the final stage, from a contractors point of view. This in no way guarantees that the systems in place, such as heating and cooling, ventilation etc have been tailored to be most efficient. Conflicts between systems are common and can go un-noticed for a long time without a good move-in snagging and optimisation 'soft landings' procedure from both users and facilities representatives. 
    • Make use of Systemslink. You can't reduce what you can't measure. Systemslink is a powerful resource collecting meter data on utility usage across the University estate. The data it collects for your buiding could help steer efforts. To find out what data is available for your facility, please contact Environment & Energy.
    • Encourage your department's building manager (or equivalent) to join the Building Manager's Network. This is a group of individuals who best fit the title of Building Manager for their building who meet throughout the year to share best practice, have two way engagement with representatives from estate management about new developments and explore the operational side of the University's estate.