Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Awareness campaign seeks to cut energy use, avoid lab costs

To reduce energy consumption and costs in all university laboratories, the Office of Campus Sustainability has launched a campuswide awareness campaign, building on previous conservation efforts of the Planet Blue Operations Team.


Magnetic signs like this remind users to close the sash on each fume hood unit. (Photo by Mark Sedmak)


Learn more about the Sustainable Labs program or campus sustainability.

"Shut the Sash" reminds lab users to close the transparent barrier on chemical fume hoods when not in use to avoid unnecessary energy consumption. The campaign is an extension of the Sustainable Labs program offered by OCS, and has the potential to avoid $2 million in energy costs for the university.

"We are trying to educate lab users on the benefits of closing the sash not only as a safety measure to prevent exposure to potentially harmful elements released during experiments, but also to reduce energy use in their workspace," said Sudhakar Reddy, sustainability coordinator with OCS, and the lead for campus laboratory awareness outreach.

A chemical fume hood operates similar to an exhaust fan by removing large volumes of air from the experiment space within the hood. This constant air pull results in annual energy consumption of 48,000 kilowatt hours per unit, which is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power 3.5 homes.

The cost associated with operating a single fume hood is $4,800 per unit, with the university spending $12 million annually to operate the 2,500 hoods located in laboratories across campus.

As part of the campaign, OCS is working with facility managers, safety coordinators, lab directors and students to place large, magnetic signs with reminders to close the sash on each unit. The goal is to achieve an overall energy reduction of 15 percent by fiscal year 2014, equating to an avoidance of $2 million in energy costs and 9,531 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to removing 1,870 vechicles from the road.

The program's success will be tracked by comparing data from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2014 in a sample laboratory. Similar awareness campaigns were implemented in laboratories at Harvard University and the University of British Columbia, resulting in the successful reduction of energy consumption of fume hoods.

Two models of fume hoods are used in campus laboratories: Constant Air Volume (CAV) and Variable Air Volume (VAV). While both models will display the awareness signage, OCS representatives anticipate the VAV model's design will offer the greatest energy conservation — up to 50 percent — when the sash is closed because the unit's fan speed and volume of air being exhausted also is lower.

Placement of signage has begun on fume hoods in some LSA buildings and in Medical School research buildings, with the campuswide rollout expected to be completed by the end of January.

"Overall response to the campaign has been positive so far," said Mark Sedmak, associate director with Medical School Facilities Management and Planning. "While many lab occupants seemed to know that closing the sash was a good idea for safety, some didn't realize there could be energy savings as well."

Sedmak noted listing the energy use equivalency on the signage serves as a strong reference point for building awareness and educating faculty, staff and students on the level of energy consumption by fume hoods.

The awareness campaign was developed in coordination with the lab safety group within the Department of Occupational Safety & Environmental Health.