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Sharing Lab Space & Equipment Leads to Significant Savings at CU Boulder

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Oct 24, 2019

Today University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) – a Better Buildings Alliance and Better Buildings Smart Labs Accelerator partner – hosted an extension of the I2SL Annual Conference at its campus. This conference is an international event focused on energy efficiency and sustainability in laboratories, led by the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL), also a Smart Labs Accelerator partner. CU Boulder gave I2SL attendees a behind-the-scenes look at the strategies they’ve used to form partnerships between campus stakeholders to create a collaborative approach to efficient and successful laboratories. CU Boulder’s innovative use of shared laboratory space is leading the way in improving some of the most energy-intensive buildings on campus, saving the university an estimated $253,000 every year.

Laboratories are a focal point for energy and carbon management reduction strategies at universities due to their high operational and energy costs, accounting for up to 70% of a campus’s energy footprint. If all laboratory buildings across the U.S. improved their energy efficiency by 20%, annual energy and cost savings could reach 40 trillion BTUs and $1 billion.

Shared lab facilities, especially for low-cost, commonly used laboratory equipment, provide many benefits despite having low adoption rates, which leaves considerable potential for the expansion of such facilities across the country. The CU Green Labs program demonstrates that large energy and cost savings are possible in a research setting by targeting resource conservation, reducing laboratory waste, and promoting the sharing of research resources.

The University’s Biochemistry Cell Culture Facility (BCCF) exemplifies the benefits of collaborative research space and shared equipment at a large research institution. The BCCF is a 1,554-square-foot facility that has accounted for millions of dollars in cost-avoidance to its 16 member labs and the university. By sharing a single lab space, BCCF’s footprint is 30% smaller than what 16 separate lab spaces would require. This concentrated, optimized lab space avoids unnecessary and wasteful duplication of common equipment, reducing plug load electricity by 58%. The lab’s smaller size and high usage also reduces relative ventilation needs compared to the ventilation required for 16 individual spaces. In 2017, the CU Green Labs program saved the University an estimated 81,500 kWh in electricity and $9,912 in ventilation energy costs.

The BCCF is a promising example of what can be implemented on campuses to increase lab efficiency in certain scenarios, such as for cell culture work. As scientists compete for research funding, the efficiency and cost-saving measures implemented at CU Boulder are maximizing the impact of research dollars and increasing research opportunities.

Learn more about other Smart Labs innovations taking place in partnership with the Department of Energy on the Better Buildings Solution Center.

*Photo: Dr. James White of CU Boulder presenting at the i2SL Conference Extension