Richard Eady, of Temperature Electronics, explains how the choice of laboratory equipment can help laboratory owners save energy and money and reduce carbon emissions.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 set the goal of an 80% reduction in UK emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide by 2015. 

Businesses and institutions all have their own stringent targets to meet. However, organisations operating laboratories face a particularly steep challenge, as they strive to cut emissions while also complying with tight health and safety legislation. 

The academic sector is championing a global ‘Shut the Sash’ campaign to reduce laboratory emissions, a campaign that ultimately will help support energy savings and cut costs.

Temperature Electronics (TEL) has, for many years, worked in partnership with fume cupboard manufacturers and global users in industrial and academic laboratories. Its goal has always been to help customers to reduce other energy consumption and emissions as well as to comply with health and safety legislation.

Coinciding with the Shut the Sash campaign, which encourages laboratory-based students, researchers and staff to close fume cupboard hoods when they are not in use, TEL has launched an upgraded auto sash controller. In many laboratories, manual hood closure is required. TEL’s controllers, however, automatically close cupboards when they detect that there is no operator present, minimising energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The company has recently upgraded its controllers to feature a digital display, facilitating easier calibration and operation. They also incorporate a new under sash sensor that has enabled a reduction in the price of the controller. TEL estimates that the installation of its product has the capacity to save customers previously operating without controllers approximately £1000 in energy costs per fume cupboard per year.

Auto sash controllers are not the only products that can help cut laboratories’ energy consumption and emissions.

CAV fume cupboards

Many laboratories use constant air volume (CAV) fume cupboards which continuously suck air out of the laboratory, replacing it with clean air in order to ensure the safety of operators.

The continuous operation of CAV units means that even when the fume cupboards are not in use they are fully operational, consuming electricity and generating carbon emissions. 

John Dalton Tower, in the Manchester Metropolitan University, for example, contains 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.  Around the same time, the Higher Education Funding Council for England set a target to reduce carbon emissions across the sector by 43% by 2020 (against a 2005 baseline).

The university looked at realistic ways of reducing costs and emissions. It commissioned a simple retrofit solution, to convert the fume cupboards into a variable air volume (VAV) system. The upgrade involved the installation of a TEL VAV control system which recognised when the units were not in use, automatically switching off the air conditioning system. 

The benefits of this were immediately noticeable. 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 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 the University’s Co2 emissions by nearly 300 tonnes a year, and in the early stages of the project going live, cost savings measured £1,104 per week.

The benefits of the VAV retrofits have also been felt outside the academic sector. Originally part of a large 1970s industrial campus, The Wilton Centre in Cleveland used to house the R&D laboratories of ICI, later to become AstraZeneca. In 2000, the complex was broken up and sold off. Under the new owners of the campus energy centre, energy costs rose, and by 2008, there had been an increase of 54%.

The centre’s managers undertook a wide-reaching programme to reduce energy use. One element of the programme was the retrofit of VAV controls to over 600 existing CAV fume cupboard hoods. This contributed to a 60% reduction in electricity consumption and cut carbon emissions of 1,700tCo2 pa.