The University of Georgia’s research enterprise has contributed to the greater good for more than 160 years, and now, that good science is getting even better. UGA’s Green Lab Program is helping laboratories on campus continue solving the world’s grand challenges while reducing their own environmental footprints.
Research laboratories are resource-intensive spaces; they can use as much as 10 times the energy and water per square foot of an office or classroom and can generate as much as 25 times the waste. With nearly 2,000 labs covering 1.5 million square feet of space on campus, these operations can have a significant impact on the institution’s overall resource consumption and waste generation.
That’s where the UGA Green Labs Program comes in. The program is committed to making UGA research labs more sustainable and efficient by reducing resource use, diverting waste and implementing best practices and technologies.
“We must redefine what it means to do good science,” said Star Scott, UGA Green Labs founder and program manager. “Doing good science has always meant producing testable, objective, reproducible data and bringing in sufficient funding. But it’s time to expand our thinking to consider the environmental and social impacts of our research operations and minimize those as much as possible. The Green Labs program is here to make it easy to adopt these changes and further improve the integrity of the incredible research being done here at UGA.”
Last fall, UGA Green Labs student intern Anna Lentz completed an energy reduction project at the Center for Molecular Medicine. She helped assistant professor Pengpeng Bi reduce energy consumption in his lab by 14.4 kWh/day, saving over $400 a year, by adding benchtop timers to equipment, temperature tuning his freezer and shutting the fume hood sash when the unit was not in use. With more UGA labs embracing Green Labs initiatives like Bi, it could result in an annual savings of nearly $200,000 or more in energy, water and waste disposal costs for the university, positively impacting UGA’s research culture.
Things are warming up in UGA research labs, resulting in significant energy savings. UGA Green Labs encourages researchers to “temperature tune” their ultra-low freezers (sometimes called “ULTs” or “minus 80s”) from -80 to -70 degrees C. This simple act can reduce energy use by up to 30%, cutting the institution’s energy costs each year while protecting vital samples. Green Labs consults directly with researchers to ensure this practice is safe for their samples.
The UGA Green Labs program invites all UGA research labs to participate in the International Freezer Challenge now through July 1. The challenge is a global competition designed to promote best practices in cold storage management and help researchers decrease energy consumption, increase the security of vital samples and win prizes, including a new high-efficiency, ultra-low freezer (a value of $15,000) courtesy of UGA Utility and Energy Management. Researchers receive points based on actions taken within the challenge, such as cleaning freezer filters or optimizing sample storage.
Right on time
It is common for many types of lab equipment to stay on for extended periods to ensure they are ready for use when needed. The Green Labs program has implemented novel methods for reducing energy consumption without interrupting research operations. For example, benchtop water baths are often left on 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure they will be at the required temperature when needed. The Green Labs program provides timers for these units, so they automatically shut off at the end of the day and power up early in the morning, reducing operation time from 24 hours to around 10 hours a day—an annual savings of more than $340 per unit.
Positive changes implemented via Green Labs initiatives offer near- and far-reaching impacts, benefiting the institution, researchers and the planet. Reducing resource use and diverting waste from research labs has helped reduce overall operational costs for the university while also helping to meet institutional sustainability goals. Additionally, implementing Green Labs practices has increased the security of vital research samples, prolonged the life of expensive laboratory equipment, improved the safety of research spaces and given researchers an advantage in funding opportunities.
For information on the Green Labs program, please visit greenlab.uga.edu or email email@example.com. For details on the Freezer Challenge, visit freezerchallenge.org or contact UGA’s site coordinator, Anna Lentz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.