The Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology of TalTech held an energy conservation challenge in the final months of the year to adopt greener practices in the daily work of the laboratories and reduce the energy consumption of the department. As a result of the challenge, its energy consumption decreased by 10–15% in November and December compared to previous months and the same period in past years. How did they do it?
Eight research teams took part in the challenge, sharing many good practices with each other and with other research teams; at the end of the challenge, comprehensive reports were submitted on the measures implemented and future plans. In search of energy conservation possibilities, the energy consumption of many devices was measured in three work modes to find optimal solutions, meetings were set up in rooms with windows during daylight hours, and labels and stickers were put up all over the department to remind people to save energy. However, the challenge also included conservation options that are difficult to measure; for example, replacing external doors and windows that let in cold would be wise. Director of the Department Pirjo Spuul notes that because energy-saving signs are displayed throughout the department’s premises, all staff are aware of the need to save energy, not just the research teams involved in the challenge, so the impact is greater.
The lion’s share of the savings was related to all kinds of devices. It seems elementary to unplug all back-up devices from the wall while they are on stand-by and to always switch off all equipment when not in use, yet it is surprisingly rarely done. That is why many laboratory devices were labelled with stickers reminding to switch them off during the challenge. In case of electricity with stock exchange price, it is also a good idea to keep an eye on Elektrikell and, if possible, to schedule energy-intensive procedures for cheaper hours. True, it will not save energy, but it will save money. There are also other ways to conserve energy.
For example, work with fume hoods has been reorganised. Some are set up as storage cupboards for chemicals that need to be in a ventilated cupboard and others are used for work with hazardous chemicals. When they are no longer needed, the chemicals are placed in the cupboard for storage and the ventilation in the other cupboard is switched off. In case of all kinds of equipment, cooperation, sharing, and being better acquainted with the equipment will have a beneficial effect.
Similarly, refrigerators and freezers were checked. First, the energy consumption of freezers was measured before and after defrosting and the numbers speak for themselves. A freezer with a lot of ice build-up uses 5% more energy. Wherever possible, the temperature of ULT freezers was raised from -80 degrees to -70 degrees, reducing the amount of energy used by almost 30%! The gold standard of freezer use is to think carefully about what to take out/put in, so that the door would stay open as little as possible. However, this requires that a good system is in place. This is important for both refrigerators and freezers, in the laboratory and at home. Re-using ice is also helpful – instead of pouring away used ice after experiments, it can be put back in the freezer for colleagues to use without having to make new ice.
According to Spuul, the energy conservation challenge has led to a positive change in the department and a step closer to a sustainable laboratory culture. Awareness has increased among both the challenge participants and other staff so this is just the beginning – energy conservation will be increasingly important in the future. ‘The participants pointed out that saving energy should be a pleasant lifestyle which requires mindfulness of one’s actions and finding new opportunities and ways to use energy more efficiently at work and at home,’ Spuul says.
The Energy Conservation Challenge 2022 of the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology was won by the neurological laboratory led by Professor Tõnis Timmusk. The neurological laboratory initiated most of the changes and good practices not only in the research group but in many parts of the institute, in public laboratories, and in work spaces.
Following the challenge, the department also formulated good practices of energy conservation, which will hopefully be implemented by other research teams and not only the ones participating in the challenge.
Best practices of energy conservation at the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology:
- turning off unnecessary lights in laboratories and corridors;
- switching off equipment not in use;
- turning off computer screens that are not in use;
- strict control of the status of fume hoods and their front panel positions;
- setting the temperature of many -80°C freezers to -70°C;
- cleaning and reorganising refrigerators and freezers;
- storing samples at room temperature if possible;
- an up-to-date list of chemicals to avoid over-buying;
- optimising the use of shared equipment;
- reminders and signs to raise awareness;
- using stairs instead of lifts – burn calories, not electricity;
- using ultrapure water only when necessary;
- smarter and better planned waste management.