PHILADELPHIA Laboratories and cleanrooms are some of the worst environmental offenders. Their energy-hungry and pollution-generating processes are so pervasive, they seem inescapable. But a movement toward building “sustainable” laboratories could lessen the environmental impact. In one of the first sustainable cleanroom projects, the Philadelphia Police Department is using an 80-year-old schoolhouse and natural daylight in the design of a Class 100,000 forensic laboratory.
Instead of tearing down the schoolhouse, designers are rehabilitating it to house the 50,000-ft2 lab, scheduled for completion next summer. Natural daylight and a photovoltaic roof will help reduce its energy demand and the need for electric lights.
Such environmentally friendly labs cost more, admits designer Janet Baum, who is also a founding principal with Health, Education, and Research Associates in St. Louis, a lab design company promoting sustainable labs and cleanrooms. However, she is hopeful that long-term energy savings will give facility owners an incentive to build and operate on sustainable concepts.
Although alternative energy sources and non-polluting, recycled, and recyclable materials are key elements of the concept, one big obstacle is the proliferation of power-hogging and heat-generating analytical equipment and instrumentation. These changes are responsible for electrical requirements shooting up logarithmically over the past 20 years, Baum says.
A solution might be an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating system for scientific equipment much like the energy ratings for commercial and residential equipment and appliances. “If we can bring incentives to equipment manufacturers to have more energy conserving products, labs will benefit enormously,” she says.
By reducing the energy load and ventilation requirements of a room, barrier isolation technology is one step in the right direction. Removing people from the containment area is “very positive from the aspect of the environment,” Baum says. “Gloveboxes and barriers reduce the burden of performance upon the overall room where humans are walking around,” she adds.
Baum spoke on sustainability at the EPA's Labs for the 21st Century conference held September 8 – 10 in Cambridge, MA, where she also raised the possibility of the equipment energy ratings system.