Energy Efficient and Safe Labs

Maintaining the safety and health of lab workers while reducing Cornell laboratories’ carbon footprint...


Green Lab Certification
Green Lab Certification

Greening Cornell Labs

Cornell intends to become a global leader in identifying and implementing sustainability strategies for operating research campuses. Improving lab ventilation management and energy conservation is being undertaken while maintaining safe laboratories that support the teaching, research and service missions of the University. In this effort, a partnership is being developed between Cornell’s laboratory workers and administration, the Facilities Services Energy and Sustainability department, and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety in the form of an integrated management plan for the design, use, monitoring and maintenance of the ventilation systems in campus laboratories. The overriding goal of this program is to maintain the safety and health of lab workers while contributing to the energy reduction goals of the entire campus. Based on benchmarking with other research campuses, we believe Cornell laboratories’ carbon footprint will be reduced by 20% over a 10-year period.

Improving Laboratory Energy Conservation

Cornell is currently working to improve the effectiveness of airflows in lab spaces through implementing the initiatives set forth in the 2009 CAP. Fully half of Cornell’s energy bill goes towards paying the cost to move and temper ventilation are for campus’ 3,000 lab spaces. Current initiatives are being undertaken that will improve and properly control the quality of airflow. The expected savings resulting from these modifications will be put towards monitoring and testing lab environments as well as employing Environmental Health and Safety staff to assure safer laboratory workspace and carry out continued airflow testing. EH&S will assure that building exhaust systems do not degrade outside air conditions because of inadequate dispersion while new administrative programs, enforcement, and monitoring will yield increased safety in lab environments. Higher quality airflows will allow for a safe reduction of ventilation rates from 8/4 air change per hour to 6/3 (occupied/unoccupied.) This should result in a savings of $2 million per year ($1 for every square foot of Cornell’s 2 million square feet of lab space). The first five years of this program will result in the re-commissioning of half that space.

Laboratory Ventilation Optimization

Laboratory ventilation is a core protection strategy for the use of hazardous chemicals in Cornell workplaces. The primary characteristic of Cornell’s laboratory ventilation systems is that they provide “once through” outdoor air to the workplace to prevent recirculation of airborne contaminants. This approach, when properly implemented, is effective at protecting workers’ safety and health as well as supporting the science conducted in throughout Cornell’s labs. However, it can also be significantly more expensive in terms of energy use compared to ventilation systems in other types of buildings. Therefore, it is appropriate for both fiscal and environmental reasons that laboratory ventilation on campus be carefully managed to assure that it is optimally used. As part of its Climate Action Plan goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, Cornell is implementing a broad program of energy conservation on the Cornell campus. Because laboratory space uses a disproportionate amount of the University’s energy and carbon budget, laboratory ventilation optimization is a key part of this program. This issue is also a core element of the Green Development Actions identified by the Climate Action Plan, which include low energy use standards for new buildings…to reduce the need for future energy and maintenance costs (CAP, 2011).

Supporting Safe and Sustainable Operations

In order to sustainably operate Cornell laboratory ventilation systems in a way that supports continuous improvement of both worker safety and environmental impact, this program is based on two ANSI Standards developed by the American Industrial Hygiene Association: Z9.5 for Laboratory Ventilation, and Z10 for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. The first of these standards outlines the mechanical and management elements required for the successful use of laboratory ventilation to protect worker health and safety in a Laboratory Ventilation Management Program (LVMP). The second describes the elements of a management system that can support this program long term.