Chemistry labs help university win energy savings challenge for third year

Date

10/06/20

Labs in the Department of Chemistry have been recognized for making significant energy saving steps that helped the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign win the International Laboratory Freezer Challenge for a third straight year.

Keeping laboratory samples cold can be an essential part of research activities and ensuring the safety and integrity of projects and experiments. As a Tier One research university, the numerous refrigerators, freezers, and cooling equipment used across campus also present a significant opportunity to further energy conservation efforts.

Winning the “hat trick,” the U of I was honored by the International Laboratory Freezer Challenge as one of the top universities at implementing cold-storage best management practices and reducing energy usage for a third straight year. Twenty-one labs on campus, including some Chemistry at Illinois labs, combined to save approximately 263 kWh/day, which is the equivalent energy use of nine average households.

Two chemistry labs were specifically recognized for making significant contributions this year: 

  • Nicholas Rinehart, Scott Denmark Group 

    • Created a digital sample inventory for 11 freezers and fridges
    • Replaced two standard freezer boxes with high-density format boxes
    • Moved 125 reagent tubes and kits from cold to room temperature storage
    • Discarded approximately 30,000 samples
  • Martin Gruebele Group
    • Led the university in energy saving with a 38 kWh/day reduction

Mohamed Attalla, executive director of F&S, said the university started its Freezer Challenge program in 2017 as a way to strengthen the sustainability culture in labs and promote the mindset that everyone can make an impact regardless of the size of their lab or research area.

"This year’s victory among other peer institutions is a credit to all the researchers and students who implemented efficient lab management practices and continued their efforts while adapting to the health and safety protocols required during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Attalla said.

My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) will recognize the university’s three-peat with a newly created “winning streak” honor during a virtual award ceremony held at the I2SL annual conference on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. CDT.

From January to August, labs filled out a scorecard to earn points for efficient practices during the competition period. Some of the cold management storage best practices that have been used consistently in labs across campus to improve energy efficiency, reduce costs, and protect sample integrity include the following:

  • Regularly managing and organizing samples to avoid overcrowding
  • Defrosting units to prevent the buildup of ice
  • Washing and replacing filters as recommended by the manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Checking door and component seals to prevent the loss of conditioned air
  • Vacuuming condenser coils and removing any debris that potentially blocks heat exchange
  • Performing regular equipment checks and scheduling preventive maintenance

Dr. Julie Nguyen, a College of Veterinary Medicine researcher and multi-year program participant, said, “I love the Freezer Challenge because it’s a yearly reminder that says it’s time to clean out your fridges and freezers. The U of I does a great job of being as energy-efficient as possible, for example, turning off the light switches when not in use. Freezers are some of the largest energy users on campus, and something as simple as defrosting a unit can extend its lifespan, as well as help remove unneeded samples, which is a win-win.”

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