Category: Labs

Smart freezer management goes a long way

This guest blog comes courtesy of Martin Farley, King’s Sustainable Research Manager.


Ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers are an essential resource in medical science, as they allow biological samples and vaccines to be preserved safely at very low temperatures. Many lifesaving vaccines, including the Pfizer (COVID-19) vaccine, require ULT freezers for storage and they are vital to research laboratories, including ours here at King’s, where we have over 550!

Like any cooling, freezers are extremely energy intensive, particularly ULT freezers. Depending on their age and model, these freezers can use the same amount of energy as the average UK home and require further energy to cool the spaces they occupy. Beyond the impact of energy consumption, cold storage devices utilise refrigerant gases, which are HFCs. While these gases are far less harmful on the environment than their predecessors (CFCs), they can still wreak havoc if released into the environment. In the UK, there are regulations in place to avoid their release, but old equipment can still lead to leakages.

So, what can we do to manage our ULT freezers sustainably?  

  1. Procure energy efficient freezers – To start, we can aim to purchase more efficient units. At King’s, we promote sustainable procurement both through our tender process and sustainable lab programme (LEAF).
  2. Manage samples efficiently – Storing our samples efficiently means we can maximise our freezer space. King’s Department of Women & Children’s Health have recently transformed their sample management system by adopting microtubes that take up less than half the space of previously used containers. This has had the dual effect of increasing the internal capacity of each freezer and reducing the volume of plastic required. Shared around the college, this practice is now being adopted by others, including groups within the School of Basic & Biomedical Sciences.
  3. Store only what we need – By removing samples that are no longer needed we can consolidate our holdings. To support this, King’s Freezer Replacement Scheme offers to pay for new, ultra-efficient, fully-racked ULT freezer if researchers can consolidate the contents of freezers in their area, so that two older freezers can be taken away in exchange for one new energy efficient one. This scheme aims to reduce carbon emissions and encourage the adoption of efficient management systems.
  4. Good housekeeping – Smart freezer management goes a long way! Our Good Practice Guide provides some great tips and tricks on maintenance such as defrosting and clearing filters.
  5. Reduce the temperature – Check what temperature the freezers are set at. While many operate at -80°C, historically they all were set to -70° That 10°C difference leads to an impressive 25-30% in energy saving, and has been implemented in some of King’s sites like the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases.

As our research and laboratory practices grow, we must ensure that consideration is given to the impacts on the environment and integrating sustainable practices such as those listed above is crucial to delivering impactful research, while minimising our environmental impact. Whether you are directly involved in freezer management, or have a supporting role, we can all play a part in sharing this knowledge and raising awareness amongst our peers, which in turn can go a long way in creating a wider mindfulness about their environmental impact and how we can support a more sustainable infrastructure at King’s.

The Careers & Employability Festival starts next week!

How does sustainability tie into a career in healthcare or arts & entertainment? What jobs lie in the environmental sector?

Join this Careers & Employability Festival to hear from professionals who studied subjects from clinical medicine to museum studies to geography and are now part of the Greener NHS Programme, own sustainable fashion businesses, work in climate finance, renewable energy, and more. They will be discussing how they incorporated sustainability into their careers.

Sound intriguing? Find more information and sign up here.

12 April: Be a sustainability changemaker in any and every career.
14 April: Assessing your future organisation’s commitment to sustainability.
26 April: Build your employability for a sustainability career.

How to reduce, reuse, and recycle your way to a more sustainable lab

This guest blog comes from Dr Nicola Harris, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry

Lab-based research is not sustainable. If you work in a lab, think about how many tips, gloves and plastic tubes you throw away every day and then think about how many labs in the world do the same. In fact, labs are estimated to be responsible for 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. Unfortunately, alternatives to single-use plastics in the lab can be hard to come by or are labour intensive, and safety concerns mean that clinical and contaminated waste needs treating – usually by energy-intensive incineration or autoclaving (or both).

As well as the need to reduce plastic waste, CO2 emissions, electronic waste and over-consumption are also all problems with lab research. Labs use 10 times more energy than offices and 4 times more water.

We are all familiar with reduce, reuse, recycle at home – but how can we apply these in the lab? Here are some tips to help your lab move towards being more sustainable while our suppliers catch up. These tips are primarily based on my own experiences in life sciences research – I do protein-based research, with a lot of molecular biology and RNase-free work. Check out My Green Lab and LEAF for more tips!

Reduce

Probably the most important step to take right now, with the biggest impact.

New equipment – do you really need it? Can you borrow someone else’s? Does another group need something – can you share and buy it together instead of getting one each?

Reagents. If you need something, double check you don’t have it already tucked away at the back of a shelf before ordering more (a lab inventory is very useful for this). Do other groups have some you can borrow?

Consolidate autoclave runs. Does it only run when full?

Reduce lab energy consumption. Turn Ultra-Low Temperature (ULT) freezers up to -70 °C, using around 30 – 40 % less energy than -80 °C. Regular defrosts will also help freezers consume less energy. Shut fume hood sashes when not in use – a single fume hood uses the same amount of energy as a household. Turn other equipment off when not in use – most things don’t need to be on overnight and at the weekend (turning off also increases the lifetime of the equipment).

Use pipette tip refills instead of new boxes. You can autoclave refilled boxes yourself, and tip refills come in RNase-free filter tip varieties too!

Improve sterile technique. Reduce plastic waste by using a glass or metal cell spreader – these can be sterilised with ethanol and a flame and are as sterile as a plastic disposable spreader (in my opinion more sterile, as people’s hands go in and out of the packet for the disposable ones!).

Think about what you are doing and why. Protein research does not really need tips to be sterile, for example. Buffers generally don’t need to be filtered and autoclaved, and the purest water isn’t necessarily required.

Reuse

Glass alternatives. Many single-use plastics have glass alternatives that can be washed and reused. Buffers can be made in glass bottles instead of plastic tubes, and cell cultures can be grown in autoclaved glass bottles. Reusing glass many times over will result in fewer emissions, even if it needs autoclaving. Remember that disposal of contaminated plastics requires autoclaving or incineration anyway – so you might as well autoclave glassware instead.

Plastics can be washed out and reused. This may not be an attractive option, however, as it is fairly labour intensive.

Re-home old equipment. If you need new equipment, there are options to buy equipment that other labs no longer need (for example from Warp It and Richmond Scientific). Similarly, if you no longer need some equipment then it can be used in someone else’s lab.

Recycle

Unlike at home, recycling in a lab can be difficult. Waste contractors can be unhappy about taking waste that could be contaminated – but it is worth talking to them about it if you are able to.

Plastic reagent bottles. Check the resin type (1, 2 and 5 are most commonly accepted), remove the hazard label and wash out thoroughly for recycling.

Uncontaminated card and paper. The easiest thing to recycle from labs – packaging in particular.

Take-back schemes. Lots of companies do take-back schemes – for example, New England Biolabs take back their cold shipping polystyrene boxes, and Starlab take back their pipette tip boxes and tip wafers. Check with your suppliers to see if they offer any take-back schemes (or encourage them to start one!).

Ice packs. Most life sciences labs will be familiar with the huge pile of ice packs that can build up in a dusty corner of the lab. Good news – 2B Scientific recycle ice packs.

One step further

The above examples are some easy-to-follow tips – there are many more things that can be done to make your lab greener. For example, you can talk to companies about their sustainability policies, challenge them on their plastics, and feedback about their packaging. You can also liaise with your waste contractor to find out how they feel about recycling. Check My Green Lab and LEAF for bigger-scope ideas to improve your lab sustainability.

Take away messages

  • It’s ok to start small
  • If you are new – don’t be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions
  • Go for ‘easy wins’
  • Switch suppliers to support greener companies (e.g. we switched to New England Biolabs for our DNA purification kits and 2B Scientific for protein expression kits)

Don’t worry if you can’t do much – lab culture can be hard to change, and you may not have much control over how things are done in your lab. But every step helps – try something, and your example may encourage other people to take greener steps too!

A big thanks to LEAF and the King’s Chemistry sustainability team for the inspiration and ideas to make our lab greener.

Find out more about King’s Lab Sustainability Champions here.

Resources

My Green Lab https://www.mygreenlab.org/

LEAF https://www.ucl.ac.uk/sustainable/staff/labs/take-part-leaf

Richmond Scientific https://www.richmondscientific.com/

Warp It https://www.warp-it.co.uk/

Starlab https://www.starlabgroup.com/GB-en/about-starlab/sustainability.html

2B Scientific https://www.2bscientific.com/

New England Biolabs https://www.neb.uk.com/news/the-neb-shipping-box-recycling-programme

 

King’s Energy: What is energy?

This guest blog comes from Rebecca Lindsay, BA Philosophy and Spanish student and Sustainability Champion Assistants (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

The world of energy often feels like a world of jargon. Emissions, baselines, decarbonisation – what does it all actually mean?

In the most basic terms, energy is “the ability to do work.” So when we talk about energy, we’re talking about electricity, gas, diesel and other types of power. King’s energy is also responsible for managing King’s water usage.

When reducing your carbon emissions, it’s important to consider energy efficiency. Essentially, the more efficient an appliance is, the less energy it uses to do the same amount of work. Energy = Power x Time. Some quick GCSE physics revision for you there!

But higher energy usage doesn’t always mean less efficient. It’s also important to change where we get our energy from – to decarbonise. Decarbonisation, simply put, aims to reduce our economy’s reliance on carbon and fossil fuels. Solar, wind and hydropower are all examples of renewable alternatives.

There are lots of benefits to switching to renewable energy sources – not just for your bank account! Here are just a few:

  • It creates more jobs.
  • It diversifies energy sources, meaning less importing and a stronger economy.
  • It’s cheaper! Carbon is a finite resource and increasingly expensive, whereas renewable energy is more widely available.
  • Most importantly, it reduces our impact on the planet and helps slow global warming.

Long story short: save money, save the planet.

How to we use energy at King’s?

As a research-heavy university, we use a lot of energy. So it’s up to us to be responsible with where we get it from.

Our shift to renewables is well under way. Since October 2017, all electricity directly purchased by King’s has come from 100% UK wind energy.

Both Great Dover Street Apartments and Champion Hill, two of King’s residences, have solar panels. Not only saving money, but also reducing our impact on the planet.

In Autumn 2019, King’s was one of 20 universities to sign a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with onshore wind farms in Scotland and Wales, the first deal of its kind in the country!

Universities also make lots of investments, often in fossil fuels. King’s, however, has committed to divest from all fossil fuels by the end of 2022, and to invest 40% of its funds in investments with socially responsible benefits by 2025.

We’re also developing a Climate Action Strategy alongside the King’s Climate Action Network to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2025.

As you can see, there’s lots to be done. With target deadlines fast approaching, the emphasis on clean energy has never been greater. It’s a great time to get involved! For information on how to support us, email us over at energy@kcl.ac.uk.

Sustainability Awards & Launch 2020

Sustainability at King’s over the last year has seen major progress, and on the 13 October, we celebrated the efforts and achievements of everyone who has been actively involved in helping to make King’s a more sustainable university this past year.

This year, the annual ceremony took place on via a Microsoft Live Event. We celebrated the commitment and passion of the 527 Sustainability Champions.

70 Sustainability Champions Teams were awarded:

  • 21 Bronze
  • 11 Silver
  • 4 Working Towards Gold
  • 34 Gold

Office Teams:

  • The Policy Institute (Bronze)
  • Department of Geography (Gold)
  • International Development (Bronze)
  • School of Global Affairs (Silver)
  • King’s Business School (Bronze)
  • Entrepreneurship Institute (Bronze)
  • Literature & Languages (Silver)
  • Arts Cluster (Culture, media & Creative Industries, Digital Humanities, Film, Music, Liberal Arts), (Bronze)
  • Science Gallery London (Bronze)
  • Arts & Humanities Research Institute (Bronze)
  • The Dickson Poon School of Law (Gold)
  • Fundraising & Supporter Development (Gold)
  • Melbourne House (Bronze)
  • Guys & Waterloo Chaplaincies (Bronze)
  • Deans Office (Bronze)
  • Research Management & Innovation Directorate (RMID), (Bronze)
  • Kings College Students Union (KCLSU), (Gold)
  • Admissions & Student Funding (Silver)
  • King’s Worldwide (Bronze)
  • Library Services, Waterloo (Gold)
  • Library Services, Strand (Gold)
  • Library Services, Guys and St Thomas’ (Gold)
  • Library Services, Denmark Hill (Gold)
  • Social Mobility & Student Success (Gold)
  • King’s Food & Venues (Working Towards Gold)
  • King’s Sport Health & Fitness (Gold)
  • Lavington Street, Estates & Facilities (Gold)
  • Guys Operations & Hard Assett Management (Gold)
  • Strand Operations, Estates & Facilities (Gold)
  • Centre for Inflammation Biology & Cancer Immunology (CIBCI), (Bronze)
  • Division of Women & Children’s Health (Gold)
  • Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology (Gold)
  • JBC offices (Bronze)
  • IoPPN Main Building Offices (Gold)

Residence Teams:

  • Champion Hill (Silver)
  • Stamford Street Apartments (Gold)
  • Wolfson House (Silver)
  • Great Dover Street Apartments (Gold)

Labs Teams:

  • Department of Geography (Gold)
  • Chemistry Research labs, Britannia House (Gold)
  • Cardiology Labs, JBC (Gold)
  • Giacca Lab (Gold)
  • Nikon Imaging Centre (Gold)
  • Cardiovascular Research, The Rayne Institute, St Thomas’ (Working Towards Gold)
  • Division of Women & Children’s Health (Gold)
  • The Rayne Institute, Denmark Hill (Bronze)
  • Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology (Silver)
  • Department of Analytical Environmental & Forensic Sciences – DNA labs (Gold)
  • Department of Analytical Environmental & Forensic Sciences – Drug Control Centre (Gold)
  • Department of Analytical Environmental & Forensic Sciences –3.123 (Gold)
  • Department of Analytical Environmental & Forensic Sciences –4.132 (Gold)
  • Department of Analytical Environmental & Forensic Sciences –4.134 (Gold)
  • Department of Analytical Environmental & Forensic Sciences –4.182 (Gold)
  • Nutrition Sciences (Silver)
  • Transplantation & Mucosal Biology (Lord Labs), (Gold)
  • Centre for Inflammation Biology & Cancer Immunology (CIBCI), (Silver)
  • Chantler Sail Centre (Bronze)
  • Guys Multi-Disciplinary Labs (Silver)
  • Diabetes Research Group (Bronze)
  • Dermatology Labs (Silver)
  • Medical & Molecular Genetics (Bronze)
  • Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine (Bronze)
  • Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biology (Bronze)
  • Dissecting Room (Working Towards Gold)
  • Innovation Hub, Guys Cancer Centre (Silver)
  • Centre for Host-Microbiome & Host Interactions (CHMI), Hodgkin Labs (Bronze)
  • Social Genetic & Development Psychiatry labs (Gold)
  • Wolfson CARD (Gold)
  • Basic & Clinical Neuroscience labs (Working Towards Gold)

We also celebrated specific individuals or teams in the Special Awards category, who have achieved particular success in embedding sustainability across operations, teaching and the wider King’s community.

Special Awards:

  • Oliver Austen
  • Fatima Wang
  • Richard Burgess
  • Dr Emma Tebbs, Dr Helen Adams and George Warren,
  • King’s Procurement Team
  • Beth Fuller
  • Katherine Horsham

THANK YOU!

Thank you again to everyone who has helped us make a difference here at King’s this year. The efforts of all those involved really do add up and help to achieve our university sustainability targets.

Achievements this year include:

  • 42% carbon reduction achieved (by July 2020), keeping us on track to achieve the 43% carbon reduction goal by the end of 2020.
  • Improving waste recycling rates to an overall recycling rate of 69%.
  • 53 students trained and got involved in the Sustainability Champions programme – as both Sustainability Champion Assistants (SCA’s) to staff teams and/or as IEMA Sustainability Auditors.
  • 22 events held in Sustainability Week (Feb 2020). Staff and student champions attended these events, helped to promote and event put on their own events and campaigns in this week.
  • Established the King’s Climate Action Network – a network to bring staff and students together to help shape the net-zero carbon strategy for King’s, to be achieved by 2025.
  • The third King’s Sustainability Report (2018/19) published this Summer.
  • King’s awarded 9th in the world for Social Impact in the THE Rankings.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a Sustainability Champion contact the Sustainability Team at sustainability@kcl.ac.uk.

KCL Sustainability: Green Labs

While King’s has been greatly investing in its broad sustainability agenda, there has also been a drive to innovate in our laboratories. Despite covering just over 10% of our floor space, our labs are spread across all 4 campuses and use a disproportionately large amount of energy and water, as well as produce dangerous chemical waste.

To address this untapped area, Kings has invested in over the past 18 months in a post to lead in this area as well as invested in the projects highlighted. Here are just some of the scheme’s we’ve recently implemented to improve the efficiency of King’s labs.

 Savawatt Installations

This £38,000 installation project saw 584 Savawatt controls being installed into our research fridges and freezers which saves about £15,000 each year (and roughly 68 tonnes of CO2) meaning it pays back its cost in about 2.5 years.

Green Impact: Lab Sustainability Champions

Just like in our King’s offices, our lab staff take part in an awards programme which helps reduce energy, water and general waste across the labs. They also get audited for their work at the end of greeni_logoeach year for an award promoting an environment of commitment to sustainability.

This year 20 teams are participating which is the most laboratory teams for any university in the UK.

Drying Cabinet Exchange

33 old uninsulated drying cabinets were consolidated and replaced by 28 insulated efficient models, paying back our investment in 4 years and achieving £15,000 of annual savings.

blogfumecup Fume Cupboard Management Policy

Already applied to new fume cupboard installations, this technical policy will take over a year to implement but will result in hundreds of thousands of pounds saved!

Cold Storage Policy

Our laboratories are subject to a ‘Cold Storage Policy’ which is used at other universities such as Oxford amongst others. This promotes efficient, safe and sustainable practise for using the research laboratory fridges and freezers.

Current/Future Endeavours

  • Continued installation and refurbishment of fume cupboards and ventilations systems
  • Introduction of Warp-it system for redistributing unwanted resources warpitamong other institutions such as UCL who have been very successful with the system
  • Joint UCL/KCL procurement mini-tenders

 More to come!

Look to our case studies on our labs page for summaries of all the above projects and plenty more to come, including a variety of small projects lead by local lab staff (timer installations, equipment exchanges, UPS installation, freezer warm-ups, waterless condensers and more).

If interested in our growing collection of case studies see here:

You can also contact our Research Efficiency Officer Martin Farley (martin.farley@kcl.ac.uk)

King’s Sustainable Lab Awards

Last week the Sustainability team hosted the first ever KCL Lab Sustainability Awards. These awards are a part of the NUS Green Impact awards with a focus on research laboratories, and utilise the S-Lab environmental assessment framework to evaluate labs for their efficiency and sustainability. 10 teams participated in the awards; the most teams in England. 8 won bronze and the other 2 teams commendably won silver, as the long-term goals are for incremental effective improvements which are user driven.

A host of positive actions were taken as a part of these awards. Martin Farley, (Research Efficiency Officer and lab-awards manager) spoke of some tissue culture labs at FWB managed by Beatriz Padilla (PhD candidate). Their ULT freezer was almost full and they were either about buy a new freezer or out source for space. Instead they decided to defrost there ULT freezer as a part of the awards. They managed to create ~40-50% more space, audited the samples they had, and put less strain on the freezers compressor by cleaning the dirty filter. Not only did they avoid purchase and running costs of a new ULT freezer, they saved on the one they owned.

Worth mentioning are the two silver teams: Dr. Bernard Freeman (Lab Manager) and Sandhya Anantharaman (Research Technician) helped SGDP achieve a silver award with their in-house designed online lab management tools. Women’s Health also commendably achieved silver through their note-worthy engagement and shared plans to re-engage with the awards next year. Dr. Pamela Taylor-Harris of the Women’s Health Team (also including Cally Gill and Rima Patel) stated “Women’s Health were definitely inspired by lab sustainability and I’m sure would like to take part again and continue to improve practice in the future.”.

Next year the aim is to grow the number of teams participating, and aid the repeating teams to achieve new and improved goals in an aim to bring all labs to a Gold standard. Look to our website for more details and updates about what is going on, or contact Martin Farley or the sustainability team at sustainability@kcl.ac.uk.

Sustainable labs at King’s

Martin_labsThis week we are catching up with Martin, our Sustainable Labs Project Coordinator, to find out how he is getting on with making King’s labs more sustainable.

As part of Martins job he is currently collecting information about various different pieces of equipment throughout the labs at King’s. Within these surveys he is looking at a variety of lab specific equipment including drying cabinets and fume cupboards, with an aim to reduce energy consumption and improve usage.

One current project involves replacing drying cabinets with much more efficient models. Furthermore Martin has been giving out timers to labs so that non-critical equipment such as drying cabinets can be turned off at night and then come on again in the morning, saving plenty of energy during nights. The estimated savings from the timers alone is expected to save around £30,000 over the next 10 years at King’s.

Martin is also looking at fume hoods and their usage to ensure they are being used correctly and are working as efficiently as possible. Many of the fume hoods are VAV (variable air volume) which have the potential to save a lot of energy. However it is vital that these are being used correctly and Martin is surveying to determine the status of our current usage.

Another large part of Martins role focuses on Sustainability Champions in labs. Within this programme, labs teams are asked to complete a workbook, which looks at improve the sustainability of the lab from waste and recycling to chemicals and materials. There are now 9 lab teams across King’s, representing the labs from all campuses. All of the Champions are at least at bronze level and are working hard to improve the sustainability of their labs. Martin is currently in the process of auditing these area and the awards for labs will be in July, hosted by Nick O’Donnell.

If you’d like to get your lab involved or would like more information on sustainable labs please contact Martin.