New year challenges for environmental sustainability

Universities across the UK have their own stringent emissions targets to meet, explains Richard Eady

In December, United Nations negotiators in Lima agreed a plan to fight global warming that would for the first time commit all member states to cutting emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The plan was the first step towards a deal due to be finalised in Paris later this year.

While negotiations continue at national and international levels, universities across the UK have their own stringent emissions targets to meet. Institutions operating laboratories face a particularly steep challenge, as they strive to reduce emissions while complying with tight health and safety legislation… as well as working to tight budgets.

The higher education sector has an extremely ambitious goal to meet; the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) set the aim of a reduction in carbon emissions across the sector by 43% by 2020 (against a 2005 baseline). There is no doubt that achieving environmental sustainability is – and for a long time will remain – one of the key issues facing universities.

Temperature Electronics Ltd (TEL) is a leading electronic airflow control and monitor manufacturer and consultant, and acts as energy consultant for many universities worldwide. Its experience to date is that universities are leading the way in the sustainability challenge.  They are aware that by improving the environmental sustainability of their laboratories, they can reduce energy consumption at such a rate that the cost incurred by the necessary initial “green” investment will be quickly covered, and considerable long-term financial savings will be made.

In 2014, the company completed phase one of a carbon reduction project for the University of Reading’s fume cupboard energy efficiency upgrade project, Delivering Science Laboratory Safety and Comfort Sustainably. Like many universities, historically Reading had used constant air volume (CAV) fume cupboards. These continuously sucked air out of the laboratory, replacing it with conditioned, clean air in order to ensure the safety of staff and students, in compliance with health and safety legislation.

The continuous operation of CAV units meant that even when the fume cupboards were not in use and the laboratory was empty – at night, during weekends and throughout the long university holidays – they were fully operational, consuming electricity, wasting money and generating carbon emissions. The energy-efficiency project included the fitting of variable airflow volume (VAV) controllers to 44 existing fume cupboards in the university’s chemistry teaching laboratories; the VAV controllers automatically adjust airflow according to need, reducing the volume of air extracted from the fume cupboards when not in use, therefore decreasing the level of energy consumption.

The project is on track to save the institution 343 tonnes of Co2 annually, taking it towards its own 2016 35% carbon reduction target. The upgrade is also set to save the university £90,000 in annual energy bills, paying for itself in less than three years.

Said the University of Reading’s energy manager, Dan Fernbank, earlier this year: “TEL’s project demonstrated that sustainability can go hand-in-hand with safety and comfort, providing the case for a rollout of fume cupboard improvements; a working group has now been established for an estate-wide review.”

The Reading project won the 2014 Sustainability Leaders Awards energy efficiency category, and was shortlisted in the carbon reduction category of the 2014 Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) Green Gown Awards. Following on from the success of phase one of TEL’s Reading project, phase two is due for completion this summer.

Another university reaping the rewards of a recent energy-saving laboratory refurbishment is the University of Leeds. By recruiting TEL to upgrade 63 CAV fume cupboards in the Priestly chemistry teaching laboratory to VAV units, the university saved 1,994 MWh of energy, 511 tonnes of Co2 emissions and over £81,000 in energy costs in the first six months following completion.  The university expects that the project will pay for itself in less than three years.

The Leeds project won the laboratory environmental improvement category of the international S-Lab 2014 Awards. As well as upgrading fume cupboards to VAV systems in order to save energy and emissions, to the same end universities on both sides of the Atlantic have launched a Shut the Sash campaign, designed to encourage laboratory-based students, researchers and staff to close fume cupboard hoods when the units are not in use.

In many universities, manual closure and therefore the mindfulness of users in required.  However, TEL’s auto sash controllers automatically close cupboards when they detect there is no operator present, making the minimisation of energy consumption and emissions easier to achieve. 

Last summer, the company upgraded its controllers, which now incorporate a new under-sash sensor in place of the original light curtain, resulting in a 25% reduction in price.  It believes that the installation of this new product has the capacity to save customers previously operating without controllers approximately £1000 in energy costs per fume cupboard per year, quickly covering its own cost.

I would recommend that all university facilities managers with responsibility for laboratories seriously consider the conversion to a VAV system. The necessary retrofit work is quick, cost-effective, and results in immediate savings in Co2 emissions and energy bills.  If undertaken by the right people, disruption is minimal.  This is one very straightforward and accessible means of achieving carbon targets and cost savings.

TEL was established 45 years ago, and its products are designed to enable customers to achieve energy and cost savings and a reduction in carbon emissions, while enabling them to comply with health and safety legislation.  Founded in 1969, and with a product range comprising airflow monitors, airflow controls, local exhaust ventilation (LEV) monitors and auto sash controllers, TEL has unrivalled expertise in the airflow control and monitoring market, and its products are used in thousands of industrial settings and laboratories across the world. TEL offers a full service provision, from design consultation, solution supply and installation, to training and technical backup.

Richard Eady is a Director at Temperature Electronics Ltd.


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