Energy Conservation

Laboratories utilize a large fraction of the energy used on campus due to the multitude of electrical devices such as freezers, refrigerators, and centrifuges as well as HVAC systems. The energy consumed by laboratories derives from fossil fuels, thereby contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. The EPA estimates that if half of America’s private and public labs decreased their energy consumption by only 30%, carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by the equivalent of removing 3 million cars from US highways.  Across the country and around the world, top research institutions are striving to reduce their environmental footprint with energy-saving practices in laboratories. Simple strategies such as the use of energy-efficient appliances, efficient fume hood use, and turning off equipment have significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Energy Conservation Recommendations

*The following energy-saving practices are very much in line with standard safety procedures. However, remember to ensure that your equipment will be turned on for the entirety of your protocol/experiment!

1474429493A. Refrigerators and freezers: Join the 2017 Freezer Challenge Today

    1. Turn the -80 Ultralow freezers up to -70, which is possible in most cases. These freezers are frequently kept at -80 now because companies advertised their ability to be this cold, but it is unnecessary scientifically. A -80 freezer uses as much electricity as a large household (UCDavid Store Smart) and ‘chilling up’ the freezer to -70 can reduce energy consumption by up to 30% (UCDavis Chill Up). For more information and guidelines, please see CU Boulder’s information about chilling up freezers
      1. There is a full list of materials that have been successfully stored at various temperatures here.
    2. All freezers may be cleaned on a regular basis, or biannually, (coils vacuumed and freezers defrosted) such that they reach maximum efficiency
      1. Consult the defrosting recommendations of the freezer’s manufacturer/ check the manual.
      2. If you find something hazardous that should not be in your freezer, contact the Office of Biosafety.
    3. Reduce materials stored in refrigerators and freezers to reduce energy required to keep at desired temperature. Consider a clean out day biannually; Store Smart by UC Davis provides guidelines for cleaning out the freezers; keeping an accurate inventory is advisable to avoid excessive freezer usage.
    4. If possible, reduce number of samples and reagents to cut down the use of one or more freezers
    5. When a lab member is leaving, follow the Laboratory Departure Checklist.
B. Shut the sash—shut the fume hood’s sash when not in use and keep the sash as low as possible. This not only saves energy, but it also ensures proper personal protection against chemicals.Just+Shut+It+Poster_mdfd
      1. An open fume hood uses about the same amount of energy as 3 and a half households kept at the same temperature!
      2. A Harvard competition found that “as of 2010, a 30% reduction in fume hood exhaust levels had been achieved compared to pre-contest levels, resulting in annual energy savings of over $240,000 at $7/cfm and annual reductions of over 300 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.” (
      3. Contact GreenLabs to receive a ‘Shut the Sash’ sticker.

A. Turn off, hibernate, or unplug electrical equipment when not in use (computers, PCR machines, heat blocks, stirring plates, balances, lights in the fume hoods, etc). Download small signs to remind your lab to turn off equipment and lights here.

    1. Identify equipment that is not used frequently and talk to your lab in lab meeting about setting up a policy that these equipment remain off and unplugged (if it is safe to do so).
    2. Identify equipment used frequently during the day that does not need to be on overnight. Contact GreenLabs to receive electrical timers appropriate for the equipment. These timers can be set to turn the equipment on and off automatically at whatever time is best for your lab, but can be manually overridden when necessary.
    3. Use energy saver/sleep mode after 20 minutes of inactivity on computers and monitors. Completely shut off computers and monitors overnight or over the weekends.
    4. If you are not using an incubator, shut it down.
    5. Water baths take more energy to shut off than to reheat them each day. If your water bath is used frequently, leave it on, but if it is used very infrequently, unplug it.
    6. Rent a Kill-A-Watt Electricity monitor fromCrerar Library to monitor which equipment uses energy when ‘on’, on ‘standby’, or even ‘off’ – some equipment are ‘vampires’ that use energy even when turned to off.

E. Miscellaneous

  1.  Biosafety cabinets/cell culture hood- Turn off when not in use; turn the UV light off after 30 minutes.
  2. Put all high energy equipment in the same room/specialized areas, if possible. The door can be kept shut at the entrance to these ‘freezer farms’ to reduce airflow. See (H) below.
  3. Do not leave laboratory doors open. Install easy, hand free mechanisms to open the doors that would otherwise be left open all the time due to glove use. Remember that from a laboratory safety perspective, these doors can be closed anyways. Leaving doors open increases airflow which increases the amount of energy needed to maintain temperature and humidity levels in each room. More Information from My Green Lab
For more information on waste reduction, water conservation, and purchasing practices, check out the UChicago Sustainable Laboratory Guide.