Reducing the Environmental Impact of Laboratories: A Call to Sustainable Action

Did you know that laboratories, the epicentres of scientific discovery, also leave an indelible footprint on the environment, contributing significantly to waste and energy consumption? It’s time we scrutinise the environmental impact of labs and explore actionable steps toward a more sustainable future.

In the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs, laboratories often overlook their environmental impact, but the repercussions are significant. As we grapple with climate change and environmental degradation, the imperative to reduce the ecological footprint of labs becomes ever more critical. Sustainable practices in laboratories not only contribute to global environmental conservation but also foster a culture of responsibility and forward-thinking innovation within the scientific community.

 

Why it matters: The environmental imperative for labs

The environmental impact of laboratories is substantial, from energy-intensive equipment to disposable plastics and hazardous waste. A survey by Agilent revealed that nearly 80% of labs surveyed recognise the importance of sustainability but only 44% have established formal sustainability initiatives. The urgency to address this dissonance lies in the fact that labs are significant contributors to pollution, resource depletion, and carbon emissions. By adopting eco-friendly practices, labs can mitigate their environmental impact and lead the charge toward a more sustainable scientific future.

 

Tips for reducing lab environmental impact: A roadmap to sustainability

  • Energy efficiency: Invest in energy-efficient lab equipment, such as fume hoods, freezers, and autoclaves. Regular maintenance and calibration can further optimise energy usage.
  • Waste reduction: Minimise single-use plastics by opting for reusable alternatives. Implement waste segregation practices and explore recycling programs for items like pipette tip boxes and sample vials.
  • Green procurement: Choose suppliers and products with eco-friendly certifications. Consider the life cycle of consumables and equipment, prioritising those with minimal environmental impact.
  • Water conservation: Implement water-saving measures, such as using water-efficient autoclaves and incorporating responsible water-use practices in experiments.
  • Sustainable lab practices: Foster a culture of sustainability within the lab. Encourage staff to turn off equipment when not in use, adopt electronic documentation systems, and participate in eco-friendly initiatives.
  • Decreasing Helium usage: There is an increased shortage in the supply of helium, which is causing a shift to using hydrogen for GCMS instead. Agilent is realising new upgrades on various instruments to allow GCMS to run on hydrogen safely.

Agilent is also focusing on decreasing argon consumption in their Agilent 4210 MP-AES by using nitrogen as an alternative. The Agilent 5800 ICP-OES also utilises the least amount of argon.

Did you know that utilising more efficient UHPLC methods can decrease waste generation by 5 times or more on average? It can also increase lab productivity substantially.

Explore our range of Agilent 1290 HPLC systems with a variety of different detectors and MassSpecs to suit your lab’s needs.

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Sustainability has always been a crucial factor for Agilent Technologies. The below article shares how they are leading the way in sustainable supply chains and instrument production from a holistic approach.

Read the article here

 

Reflecting on your lab’s impact

Imagine the collective impact of every lab committed to sustainable practices. By reflecting on your lab’s environmental impact, you not only contribute to a healthier planet but also set an example for the broader scientific community.

The responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of laboratories rests not just on researchers and lab managers but on the entire scientific community. By adopting sustainable practices, labs can align their efforts with global initiatives for environmental conservation and contribute meaningfully to a healthier planet. Consider the legacy your lab leaves behind – one that goes beyond scientific discoveries to embrace a commitment to environmental stewardship.

 

Partnering with Chemetrix for a sustainable tomorrow

As we embark on the journey toward greener labs, it’s essential to collaborate with industry leaders committed to sustainable solutions. Chemetrix stands at the forefront of providing environmentally conscious options for analytical instruments and consumables. By partnering with Chemetrix, your lab can actively contribute to a sustainable tomorrow.

Reach out today to explore how together, we can redefine the future of scientific research with a shared commitment to environmental responsibility.

Nuclear Fusion: A Vision for Clean Energy

On 13 December 2022, the U.S. Secretary of Energy announced a major scientific breakthrough from a Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratory: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California has carried out the first nuclear fusion experiment to achieve a net energy gain in the context of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) project.

 

What is nuclear fusion?

Nuclear fusion is a reaction that powers our main source of light and energy: the sun, as well as other stars. In the reaction, two (or more) atomic nuclei – encompassing protons and neutrons – fuse to form larger nuclei while releasing energy. This energy release occurs because the total mass of the resulting nuclei is less than the mass of the original nuclei that were fused. The leftover mass becomes energy that can be used to run a turbine-electrical power generator.

 

Making a star on Earth to create energy

Research scientists are attempting to recreate nuclear fusion – the reaction in which stars of our universe are generated – on Earth because the reaction can create enormous amounts of energy.
For nuclear fusion to occur, stellar-like temperatures (i.e., 100 million+ degrees) must be achieved. This process forces the positively charged nuclei to form plasma within a contained vector, overcome their repulsion by moving independently at speeds of around 1,000 km/s, and fuse.

Theoretically, if the energy generated from lab-controlled nuclear fusion could be harnessed and effectively stored on a global scale, this technology could transform how we fuel our homes, businesses, and vehicle transportation. The reaction is so efficient that 1 kg of fusion fuel could provide the same amount of energy as 10 million kg of fossil fuel.

 

Urgent demand for clean energy

Since the 19th century, Earth’s temperature has increased by approximately 1.1 °C. The amount of carbon dioxide has risen by 50% because greenhouse gases have been released from fossil fuels burnt for energy.

Average temperature increases should not exceed 1.5 °C by the start of the 22nd century, scientists are warning. However, there is an urgent demand for clean energy implementation on a global scale, as a UN report from October 2022 predicts Earth’s temperature will rise by at least 2.4 °C by 2100.4

 

An emerging solution for clean energy

Research scientists in this field highlight the fact that nuclear fusion may be the solution for generating clean energy while mitigating the effects of global warming. The process does not rely on using energy sourced from fossil fuels and does not produce greenhouse gas pollutants or long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion reactor materials can also be recycled or re-used within 100 years.

In essence, nuclear fusion provides a vision toward clean and low-price energy that is within our grasp, and which one day may be able to support our daily lives, economies, and technological evolutions.

 

A milestone achievement at LLNL

On 5 December 2022, the LLNL team at its National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted a nuclear fusion experiment that resulted in a milestone achievement to date: energy breakeven – meaning that the experiment produced more energy than required to initiate the process.
The breakthrough represents a historic moment; it comes at a much-needed time, as the world faces high and unstable energy prices and unprecedented effects of global warming due to continual, global fossil-fueled energy use.

NIF development and testing spans over 50 years, and the facility leads the international laser fusion scientific community where other experiments operate, such as the Japanese FIREX and SG-III in China.

 

Advancing the research field

Now that LLNL’s research team has successfully demonstrated net-energy gain from a nuclear fusion experiment, there are still some technical challenges to overcome, such as:

  1. Replicating the experiment – if the conditions of the reaction are not favourable, it halts
  2. Further optimisation of all reaction conditions while ensuring that all components are robust enough to withstand the extreme environment necessary for nuclear fusion to occur
  3. Yielding and extracting an even higher energy output from the nuclear fusion reaction

The next R&D phase at LLNL – as well as associated research labs – will most likely involve replication and method development to achieve higher energy gains, and make advancements toward longer-term commercial viability. When it comes to vacuum technology support, Agilent products and expertise will continue to play an important role in advancing this research field.

 

In the meantime, sustainable lab solutions

While work continues to produce clean energy, what we can do now is make better choices that are in line with sustainability goals. Partnered with My Green Lab, Agilent supports scientists in achieving their lab sustainability goals. Several Agilent instruments also carry My Green Lab certification.

The opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of labs through smarter purchases is tremendous. By procuring instruments and products that will reduce waste, reduce energy consumption, reduce solvent/consumable consumption, and last longer (reducing the need to buy and discard more instruments), laboratories can operate in a more environmentally sustainable way.

Speak to a consultant at Chemetrix to learn more about sustainable instruments with technology that can help your lab achieve its sustainability goals. View our products to learn more about technology that’ll save energy and other resources for a more efficient lab.

 

Sustainability Through Lab Optimisation

The average lab consumes more energy per square meter than many hospitals or other commercial buildings—the US EPA estimates that a 30% reduction in lab energy use in the United States translates to removing 1.3 million cars from highways per year. Now, imagine what that would mean for labs around the world.

Scientific labs are experiencing an increasing demand for greater efficiency and productivity and, at the same time, a strong desire to maximise sustainability from the organisation-wide level to daily operations. Combining new data intelligence technologies and better industry insight guidance allows for advancing lab operational efficiency through better asset utilisation and increased sustainability in the digital lab era.

 

Lab managers want sustainability and optimisation

The central premise for discussing sustainability and optimisation together is that a more efficient lab is a more sustainable one. Most lab managers are mindful of both sustainability and optimisation needs. A global survey of lab managers highlighted a strong desire to meet sustainability goals and remain conscious of sustainability in their daily operations.

Key takeaways from the survey included:

  • 68% of labs surveyed acknowledged that they require further work to improve sustainability.
  • The most common sustainability expectations from instrument vendors are to reduce emissions and energy consumption. 68% of the respondents expected instrument vendors to help them reduce emissions, while 58% expected a reduction in energy.
  • Increased efficiency and optimisation are also factors, with the most critical concern being speed as demand for higher sample throughput increases dramatically. The importance that lab leaders place on improving speed, optimisation, and efficiency was also highlighted in a pharmaceutical lab leaders survey.
  • Of those surveyed, 83% believed their workflows needed optimisation, and 63% would welcome innovations to increase efficiency.

 

Advanced asset control, digital analytics, and expert guidance

The opportunity for lab optimisation improvement is profound. On average, lab instruments are running only 35% of the time, and only 4% of labs employ data intelligence to ascertain fleet utilisation.

James Connelly, chief executive officer of My Green Lab agrees, “Lab equipment makes up a significant portion of the total plug load in any lab and can lead to high energy consumption. Optimisation of lab equipment through solutions such as asset performance management can dramatically lower the overall energy consumption and be a significant step toward achieving lab sustainability.”

A holistic method of assuring lab-wide optimisation and efficiency is required to address this gap effectively. A combination of advanced asset control, digital analytics, and expert guidance allows greater visibility and utilisation of all lab assets. Maximising the availability and utilisation of all assets will reduce a lab’s carbon footprint and enable more science to be done. Increasing operational efficiency and productivity positively impacts lab sustainability. Reducing energy consumption through increased efficiency is a win-win, especially for the environment.

Data intelligence systems with real-time sensing technology and interconnectivity provide better visibility into lab operations and help drive decisions. Gaining clarity on asset utilisation enables more informed decision-making that advances lab operations to new levels of efficiency and productivity—while increasing sustainability at the same time. Measuring asset utilisation opens the door to appropriate fleet right-sizing and technology refresh, resulting in higher throughput, less power consumption, a smaller workflow footprint, and redeployment of under-used or redundant instruments.

 

Connected labs reduce waste and increase productivity

Labs that are connected benefit from multiple efficiencies that bolster sustainability. Technologies such as smart alerts foster a proactive approach to instrument monitoring. Rather than reacting to an instrument breakdown, an interconnected lab with smart alert software will prevent it from happening in the first place. Interconnectivity also enables the ability to make data-driven decisions.

Interconnective technology can also increase instrument utilisation because it calculates how much science any particular instrument performs per square meter. Sustainability isn’t limited to the traditional ‘green’ metrics of waste and water— it is equally achieved through technology.

For example, having visibility of all instruments at once to produce an overall lab footprint from which adjustments can be made to make the lab more effective and efficient. Or not having to waste time performing duplicate runs because the smart alert system fires when the first doesn’t go through.

 

Go greener with asset monitoring

The process of lab optimisation involves integrating utilisation data with instrument service histories and end-of-guaranteed support to measure the instrument’s health. Understanding instrument utilisation and health can determine the optimal footprint and workflow composition.

A central operations strategy provides lab managers with profound insight into asset composition and health and the means to make data-driven decisions and optimise lab operations. The subsequent improvement of lab-wide efficiency not only increases the productivity of the laboratory as a whole but also lab sustainability by doing more science with less energy and resources. A win for both science and the environment.

 

This article is modified from content originally published by Agilent