To ensure the success of any research laboratory, it's crucial to create a robust design that fosters a personalized and optimal working environment. Several factors influence laboratory design choices, such as regulations, space limitations, and technical requirements. These considerations vary depending on the goals and activities of each laboratory. In addition, sustainability and efficiency are two key factors that impact laboratory design. We have discussed both laboratory efficiency and sustainability in previous blogs, but it's clear that as pressures on the planet and laboratory resources continue to rise, it's more important than ever to incorporate both factors into the laboratory design process. However, there's a misconception that achieving a sustainable laboratory comes at the expense of laboratory efficiency.
This blog revisits the important topics of sustainability and efficiency for your laboratory design. We provide insights into ways in which both concepts can be incorporated simultaneously, making your lab space more productive, profitable, and eco-friendly. Additionally, we have included a "Digital Depositary" with a collection of digital tools that you can leverage to make implementing sustainable and efficient designs in your laboratory a breeze.
Ensuring that you have the right set of equipment for your needs is naturally one of the most important considerations in laboratory design. It is also important to keep energy consumption in mind to ensure optimal sustainability and efficiency. By investing in newer, more energy-efficient equipment, you may incur a larger initial cost, but will ultimately enjoy long-term savings on energy bills, while also minimizing equipment breakdowns and maintenance expenses. Simple alterations to laboratory practices with regard to equipment set-up can also have a significant impact on energy consumption. For instance, increasing your freezer's temperature from -80°C to -70°C can reduce energy consumption by 30-40% and extend the equipment's lifespan.
When designing a lab, it's easy to focus on equipment and storage alone. However, did you know that lighting can account for anywhere between 8% to 25% of a lab's total electricity consumption? This presents a significant opportunity to improve energy efficiency. Opting for energy-efficient LED or CFL lightbulbs provides a simple way to reduce energy consumption. You can also ensure that lights are only active when needed in your laboratory by installing motion-sensing overhead lighting, or adjustable task lights for versatile lighting when conducting visually-intensive tasks. These smart and flexible lighting designs not only save energy but also promote accuracy and productivity amongst your team.
In addition to electricity, laboratories also use significantly more water per square foot than other types of commercial buildings. To lessen your laboratory's environmental impact and save on expenses, consider integrating water-saving solutions into your design. Installing automatic shut-off mechanisms and timers will ensure that water is utilized only when necessary, while flow-reducing valves can minimize excess water consumption. A number of laboratory instruments such as fume hoods and autoclaves require cooling via water systems. These systems are often single-pass meaning the water is used once for cooling and is then wasted. Opting for a closed-loop system allows the water to be reused continuously, leading to significant water savings.
Digital Depositary: When designing your laboratory, Internet of Things (IoT) technology can be leveraged to enable smart monitoring, control and optimization of energy consumption. IoT devices equipped with sensors can provide real-time data on a range of environmental parameters such as temperature and occupancy levels, giving you an opportunity to identify areas for energy optimization. Additionally, IoT can be integrated into your laboratory's energy management systems to regulate energy-consuming devices. This enables the automation of energy-saving actions, such as adjusting lighting schedules and turning off unused equipment.
Designing your laboratory in a way that encourages the sharing of resources with other research groups is an excellent way to reduce running costs and avoid unnecessary waste. Sharing equipment across organizations rather than within individual laboratories not only increases resource utilization but also allows laboratories to pool their budgets and acquire more advanced equipment. This further increases efficiency by improving research accuracy and speed due to the higher capacity of the equipment. Sharing equipment also reduces your laboratory's environmental impact, as with less equipment to manufacture, fewer resources are needed, and fewer instruments plugged in means less energy consumption.
Digital Depositary: Sharing of laboratory equipment can be easily streamlined by implementing an equipment management system such as Clustermarket. These systems provide a single source of truth for all equipment-related admin, taking the complexity out of shared laboratory resources. By digitalizing equipment scheduling, you can avoid booking clashes across multiple laboratories and define booking rules to prevent equipment misuse. Utilization data can also be collected to enable smarter decisions, prevent unnecessary purchases and inform maintenance schedules.
Sharing consumables also provides an opportunity for improving your laboratory’s efficiency and sustainability. By sharing chemicals and labware, items are less likely to be wasted due to surpassing their expiry dates. Sharing also allows individual laboratories to expand the variety of their inventory without incurring high costs. Laboratories can also buy items in bulk, which is more cost-effective and reduces packaging waste.
Sharing data between laboratories is also becoming increasingly common. Although traditionally there have been limited incentives for sharing data between laboratories, there are several associated benefits that can make your laboratory more efficient and environmentally friendly. Sharing your negative results or “failed” experiments prevent researchers in other laboratories from needlessly repeating these experiments, saving them time and resources. Similarly, sharing your positive results and successful protocols enable researchers to expand on previous work without needing to repeat the original experiment, which speeds up the discovery process while minimizing resource wastage.
Digital Depositary: Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) have revolutionized the way researchers document, organize, and share their experimental data and protocols. By providing a central source of experimental data, notes and protocols, researchers can easily search for relevant information provided by their colleagues without having to sift through physical notebooks and files. They also promote active collaboration between laboratory members by allowing them to access and edit records in real time.
We previously highlighted the advantages of sharing consumables between laboratories. To foster this culture of sharing, organizations can establish centralized storage units where researchers can conveniently collect their required reagents for the day and bring them to their individual labs. This approach reduces the clutter within individual labs, freeing up space for equipment and benchwork while also reducing the likelihood of accidents and errors. An additional benefit is the ability to "shut down" individual labs at the end of the day to save energy, as freezers and incubators can be turned off when the centralized storage units offer a safe alternative.
Additionally, in traditional labs, fixed storage solutions can quickly become overcrowded and outdated. For this reason, more and more labs are opting for modular storage solutions, which offer greater flexibility and personalization. Mobile cabinets and carts are an excellent choice for storing laboratory supplies, as they allow you to easily reconfigure your lab based on team and operational growth without requiring any renovations. This approach saves you time, money, and materials.
Implementing effective management systems for laboratory reagents, consumables and other assets is also key when setting up an efficient and sustainable laboratory. Clear labelling of your inventory and logical placement of items ensures that supplies are easy to find and helps with space maximization. Furthermore, maintaining a detailed stock list and using it to audit your inventory will aid in making informed purchasing decisions when replenishing supplies. Taking control of your laboratory supplies ensures workflows will run smoothly, as all required materials for a given experiment will be available when they are needed and where they are expected. From a sustainability standpoint, keeping track of consumables also results in less waste being produced, as nearly expiring products can be prioritized for consumption. Good inventory management also indirectly decreases energy consumption by reducing the number of cold storage units required and the number of times these units are opened.
Digital Depositary: Inventory management can be an arduous and error-prone task, requiring a lot of administrative effort. However, by implementing inventory management software, you can increase the visibility of laboratory supplies, allowing for a quick assessment of stock levels and informed decision-making. This software can also automate data entry through barcode cataloging, reducing the risk of human error. Additionally, alerts can be set to notify when supplies are running low or approaching expiration, ensuring continuous workflow and minimizing waste.
Incorporating sustainability and efficiency in laboratory design is not only possible but also essential for creating a productive, cost-effective, and eco-friendly research environment. By implementing strategies such as controlling energy consumption, sharing resources, and optimizing storage, laboratories can achieve a win-win approach that benefits both their operations and the planet. Leveraging digital tools and technologies further enhances the ease of implementing sustainable and efficient designs, making it a feasible and practical choice for any laboratory.