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Improving the environmental performance of labs is a high priority at Cambridge as research heavy departments use more energy per m² than most others in the University. A significant portion of this energy consumption comes from various small power/plugged in equipment in frequent use by researchers.

The energy consumption of laboratories and of laboratory equipment varies enormously according to the research being undertaken, equipment age, maintenance quality, operating hours and behaviour of the lab users (and many more factors).

The Equipment Replacement Programme was launched in 2016 to tackle these issues and reduce the University’s energy consumption without affecting research. Due to their ubiquity and proven high energy consumption, ultra-low temperature freezers and drying cabinets were the first research equipment types to be targeted, with ECRP providing financial assistance to departments wanting to replace old inefficient equipment.

The Deal

A like-for-like replacement of an ultra-low temperature freezer (over ten years old) or drying cabinet (over five years old) with an approved energy efficient model receives 50% funding. If two units are replaced with one new approved unit, 100% of the cost of the new unit is funded by the programme. Additional units would receive a small fixed amount towards their costs to ‘offset’ the additional upfront costs to the department of an approved energy efficient model.

The Response

In the first year of the Equipment Replacement Programme, 60 new freezers and four new drying cabinets have received a total of over £230,000 from ECRP. Successful applications have come from over 20 different departments and groups. Some of these had not previously engaged with  the Environment & Energy team. After localised before-and-after monitoring it has been calculated that carbon emissions are being reduced by around 2 tonnes CO2e per freezer per year, which adds up to over 100 tonnes of avoided CO2e per year!

The Future

With a further allocation of ECRP funding towards the Equipment Replacement Programme, the Environment & Energy team will be able to incentivise more replacements of older, inefficient freezers and drying cabinets. The models of which equipment qualify are constantly under review and the team are planning to expand the programme to include other types of energy-hungry equipment typically found in labs around the university.