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5 ways to reduce energy usage and cut costs in the lab

Laboratories are notoriously energy intensive, requiring high amounts of ventilation to operate safely. Fortunately, much can be done to reduce energy consumption from adopting energy efficient behaviours through to upgrading your fume cupboards’ air control system.

There are many good reasons to reduce energy usage in your laboratory; you’ll make significant savings on energy bills, reduce your environmental impact and help meet sustainability goals. It could also make the difference to your ability to attract new clients or funding.

So let’s get started with some obvious (and often forgotten) behaviours:

  1. Turn out the lights

It’s obvious that lights in unoccupied areas should be turned off whenever they’re not needed but often they’re used in occupied areas where natural daylight is sufficient. Are lights on while blinds are down? Are overhead lights turned off when task lighting is being used? Check external lighting is turned off during daylight hours.

  1. Switch it off

All laboratory equipment that can be safely switched off when not in use should be; including microscopes, incubators, ovens, centrifuges, computers, monitors and printers. Even if it’s only for a short period of time.

  1. Fully load

Where possible make sure cleaning equipment, like sterilisers and dishwashers, as well as kilns and ovens, are full before use.

  1. Optimise HVAC systems

Do you really need the heating or air conditioning systems on? If you do, are the windows and doors shut and heaters/air conditioning units free from obstruction? If automatic controls are used make sure they reflect the reality of laboratory use and are regularly reviewed.

  1. Focus on Fume Cupboards

Because of the type and amount of ventilation they require, fume cupboards are one of the most energy intensive pieces of equipment in the laboratory, but there are ways to significantly reduce their energy usage, too, including:

  • Using the appropriate sash height to maintain required face velocities and ensuring lab users close sashes when they’re finished.
  • Designating fume cupboards according to the hazardousness of the work e.g. substances that are less volatile or toxic will require lower face velocities.
  • Only using fume cupboards for hazardous work – not bench space or general storage of chemicals.
  • Doing equipment prep work before starting work at the fume cupboard.
  • Where possible, switching off fume cupboards overnight.

Upgrade your airflow management system and save up to 85% of energy costs

All laboratories are designed as full fresh air systems in that the amount of air being extracted has to be balanced (typically 95%) by introducing conditioned (heated/cooled) outside air.

Many fume cupboard ventilation systems operate on a Constant Air Volume (CAV) basis regardless of sash position which wastes energy when fume cupboards are not in use. In contrast, a Variable Air Volume (VAV) airflow controller reduces the volume of air taken from the fume cupboard when it’s not being used and the sash is closed, reducing energy usage by up to 85% and cutting a swath through energy bills.

To really maximise energy and cost savings and provide even greater safety for fume cupboard operators, consider using an auto sash controller which closes the sash automatically when the operator moves away from the fume cupboard.

A quick example

1500 mm wide fume cupboard with a maximum safe working sash height of 500mm and face velocity of 0.50 m/s requires 300 l/s (litres per second) of conditioned air from the room.

CAV system: The fume cupboard will exhaust 300l/s regardless of sash position.

VAV system: The fume cupboard will exhaust 300l/s only when the sash is raised to its maximum sash working height, this volume will reduce to approximately 60 l/s when the sash is down. In a typical working day using an auto sash we can assume the sash is only open 2 hours per day, 5 days per week.

Fume Cupboard Design Extract Volume (m3/week)
CAV 181,440
VAV 44,832