Achieving sustainable laboratories


TEL’s very own Andrew Eady recently sat down with University Business Magazine to discuss how universities across the UK can achieve sustainable laboratories. Read the full article below.

Uni’s can reduce carbon emissions & save by improving their labs, says Andrew Eady, director at Temperature Electronics Ltd.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) target to reduce carbon emissions across the sector by 43% by 2020 (against a 2005 baseline) is nothing if not ambitious.

But universities clearly do have a lot to gain from cutting their carbon emissions. Operationally, the associated long-term energy and cost savings are as important to individual institutions as their contribution to environmental sustainability.

Whilst the drive to reduce emissions must embrace every aspect of a university’s operation, improving the environmental sustainability of its laboratories has to be a particular target.

The good news is that, while university laboratories can be notoriously energy inefficient, this inefficiency can be tackled easily and relatively cheaply, simultaneously saving money and emissions.

Many universities use constant air volume (CAV) fume cupboards. These continuously suck air out of the laboratory, replacing it with conditioned, clean air in order to ensure the safety of staff and students, in compliance with health and safety legislation.

The continuous operation of the CAV units means that even when the fume cupboards are not in use and the laboratory is empty – at night, during weekends and throughout the long university holidays – they are fully operational, consuming electricity, wasting money and generating carbon emissions.

Manchester Metropolitan University’s John Dalton Tower contained 48 fume cupboards in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. By 2011, they were costing the university approximately £50,000 per month in electricity costs alone. At the time, managers commented that: “it was worse than having the heating on with the windows open”.

The university knew that the situation was untenable, and to this end, it commissioned a simple retrofit solution, to convert the John Dalton fume cupboards into a variable air volume (VAV) system.

In essence, the upgrade involved the simple installation of a VAV control system, which recognised when the units were not in use, automatically switching off the air conditioning system as appropriate.

Focusing on 32 cupboards across two floors, the project was undertaken in the university’s specified time-scale of just four weeks, and with minimal disruption to staff and students.

The benefits of the new VAV system were immediate.

Fan electrical usage dropped by 62% during term time and 77% during vacation periods; gas consumption fell by 23%. Before the project was undertaken, electricity consumption was 320 kWh/day/fan; afterwards, it halved to 118 kWh/day/fan. There was also a considerable reduction in gas used to heat the air supply: pre-project, the boiler consumption stood at 7,247 kWh/day, and post-project it fell to 5,909kWh/day.

The reduction in energy usage is estimated to have cut MMU’s Co2 emissions by nearly 300 tonnes a year, and in the early stages of the project going live, cost savings measured a staggering £1,104 per week.

If replicated across all English higher education institutions, a nationwide conversion to VAV systems could represent a saving of over 26,400 tonnes of Co2, or nearly 5% of the HEFCE target.

I would recommend that all university facilities managers with responsibility for laboratories seriously consider the conversion to a VAV system. The necessary retrofit work is quick, cost-effective, and results in immediate savings in Co2 emissions and energy bills. If undertaken by the right people, disruption is minimal. This is one very straightforward and accessible means of achieving carbon targets and cost savings.

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