Simple steps to sustainability

Laboratories in practice – simple steps to sustainability

Times are tough right now with the cost of energy and we should all be doing our bit to operate more efficiently and sustainably. Labs by their very nature are large users of water and energy. According to My Green Lab, a laboratory consumes four to six times more energy per m2 than the average office. One water study showed that the water required to cool just one condenser for 17 days is more than the average 4-person household uses in a year1.

So you can see what large consumers of resources labs are. But there are some simple changes that labs could make, most as part of their everyday workflow, to help reduce water and energy consumption, saving money and also reducing their carbon footprint.

Optimise cycle efficiency

Autoclaves and glasswashers are two of the biggest water consumers in the lab, particularly steam jacketed autoclaves. Autoclaves consume around 84 kWh2 per day and can use as much as 60 gallons of water per cycle. And if your autoclave is more than ten years old, this could be as much as 90 gallons per cycle3.

Make sure that glasswashers and autoclaves are full and efficiently loaded before running a cycle and make use of standby modes. Co-ordinate with other labs to make maximum use of each cycle so that you never run one half empty. Say no to half loads!

Consider retrofitting steam jacket autoclaves with water-saving devices; this could cut back water usage by 75-90%4.

Use the right water and use it wisely

The processes involved in producing high-quality or analytical water require both energy and water (distillation, deionisation, reverse osmosis). For example, it takes 3 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of deionized (DI) water. Therefore, choose the lowest grade of water suitable for the application and use only analytical water when required.

Look for green features too on water purification systems. Purite’s ECO water purification unit incorporates specially designed reverse osmosis (RO) cartridges, which provide recovery rates that are considerably higher than normal. Typically, the RO membranes used in smaller laboratory units have a recovery rate under 10%; to produce 5 litres of purified water requires the processing of 50 litres of potable water, of which 45 litres run to drain. By comparison, the Purite ECO unit has a recovery efficiency of up to 50%, significantly reducing the volume of water wastage. Depending on water usage, this can reduce operating costs by over £100 per month; where multiple Purite units are in use this saving can quickly become substantial.

Turn equipment off or on standby

Labs rely on a hundreds of pieces of equipment that demand energy, many of which, such as fume cupboards and cold storage are very energy-intensive. The nature of lab work requires that some equipment can’t be turned off, so it can be hard to see where energy cost savings can come from. Start with the basics such as lights, computers and analytical equipment and have a ‘last person leaves’ list or fit timers. Turning off non-essential equipment at the mains when not in use can save 60% of lab running costs according to the University of Manchester.

And it’s not just a benefit to energy use and cost. My Green Lab says that reducing plug load by just 10% in US labs, is the equivalent of taking around 650,000 cars off the road!

For equipment like high purity water systems, which shouldn’t be turned off, use the standby features to reduce energy. Purite’s intelligent standby option imposes a sleep mode on the purification unit whenever a set time has elapsed without water being dispensed.

During standby, a 10-minute recirculation programme takes place very two hours to maintain water quality, saving both on electricity usage and water wastage. This small modification can be made retrospectively as part of our service too.

To let staff know what equipment can be turned off, for example at evenings and weekends, or what has energy saving features it has, use stickers on the equipment as reminders.

Maintain equipment

Preventive maintenance and regular checks can help keep equipment running optimally and prolong lifespan.

Take a water purification system as an example. Most will include in-line filters that are designed to remove particulate matter from the water flow. Over time, these will become clogged, reducing their efficiency and, in extreme circumstances, affecting water flow speed and pressure. Similarly, ion exchange filters must be regenerated at regular intervals to avoid the build-up of scale in downstream equipment, while activated carbon filters must be replenished with fresh Carbon to avoid damage to reverse osmosis membranes.

Ultimately, delayed or incorrect maintenance of water purification systems will affect the system itself, leading to poor performance and a shorter operating life. It will also have an effect on the services that depend on the system.

In house maintenance teams are resource tight, so make sure you know which items of your lab equipment have service contracts, what they entail and use them proactively.

Simple steps in the lab can lead to significant reductions in energy and water use, reducing cost and your carbon footprint.

For more information about our resource efficient water purification systems, get in touch with our experts today.

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