With labs using an average of five times more energy than an office, shutting fume hood sashes and thoughtfully managing of equipment can yield measurable benefits to research, safety, and the planet. Harvard’s researchers have once again risen to the challenge of improving the efficiency of their laboratories, this time through their active participation in the 2017 North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge.

Harvard’s Hoekstra Lab, led by Hopi Hoekstra, in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences was recognized as the individual lab winner of the Freezer Challenge’s Academic Division.

The Freezer Challenge was launched in January by the non-profit My Green Lab to raise awareness of the numerous research and environmental benefits of optimized lab freezer management. In total, more than 200 labs representing 34 organizations participated in the Challenge, including three labs from Harvard’s Cambridge campus who signed up and reported their actions, earning them points and providing estimated annual energy savings. According to My Green Lab, Harvard will save 33,700 kWh over the next year due to actions recorded by the participating labs.

Led by Lab Manager Kyle Turner, the Hoekstra Lab earned the most points by tackling some of the largest energy conservation actions. According to Kyle, “once I recruited our lab members, they got into the spirit of assessing what needed to be in the freezer, and helping out with the inventory system.”  In all, the Hoekstra team will save an estimated 13,000 kWh per year, saving 4.1 MTCDE, or the equivalent of taking three passenger vehicles off of the road each year.

One of the keys to the Hoekstra Lab’s success was changing the temperature set point on two of their ultra-low temperature freezers from -80° C to -70° C, which has been shown to reduce energy consumption on average by 36 percent, while maintaining the same long-term viability of the biological reagents.

Other actions taken by the lab include de-icing freezers, throwing out unneeded samples, and retiring one of the smaller freezers. Kyle noted that while taking inventory of cryo-boxes and micro-tubes can at times be tedious, other actions like de-icing freezers and setting them to -70° C were fairly easy.

The Office for Sustainability’s Green Labs Program is encouraging labs across campus to consider -70° C as an energy conservation action. Over the past year, the Program has launched a grassroots movement to raise awareness of this opportunity, and there are currently an estimated 15-20 lab freezers across the campus that have been set to -70° C or warmer in order to reduce energy. According to Senior Coordinator of the Green Labs Program Quentin Gilly, if all labs at Harvard set their ultra-low temperature freezers to -70° C, it would save about the same amount of energy as making 100 U.S. homes net-zero emissions.

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