Conducting Energy-Conscious Research at UIC

by Lizbeth Carrazco

Lizbeth Carrazco is a senior in urban studies at UIC. As the social media and communications intern for the Sustainability Internship Program, she is responsible for planning and executing any and all social media campaigns, tracking our engagement, and making jargon-y sustainability-speak more accessible and engaging for our audiences.

In this blog post, Lizbeth talks about the benefits of signing up for the 2020 International Freezer Challenge, and how conserving energy with your lab freezer pays off!

Comic of a completely frozen over freezer.

From buildings and HVAC systems to computers and equipment, researchers at UIC need energy to power their work. Scientists need overhead lighting, fume hoods, microscopes, centrifuges, hot plates, cold storage systems, and countless other appliances to make the ground-breaking discoveries that UIC is known for. These discoveries empower us to discover treatments for tuberculosis, develop detection methods to degenerative brain diseases, prototype innovative carbon capture technology, and—at the core of any research mission— gain a deeper understanding of how our world works.

According to My Green Lab, laboratories consume nearly 5 times more energy than a typical office space, and are often the largest consumers of energy on any given campus or at any given institution. After data centers, labs are widely recognized as consuming more energy per square foot than any other sector due to their around-the-clock operations, 100% outside air requirements, high airflow rates, and their energy-intensive equipment. Some equipment, like microscopes and laptop chargers, use a relatively small amount of energy. But others, like freezers and cold storage spaces, use much more: in fact, ultra-low temperature freezers (-80C) can use as much energy as an average household every day.

Conserving energy in labs can be challenging. After all, we can’t simply shut off our -80C freezers—some of the most delicate and valuable human tissue samples in the country are stored in these spaces! Instead, the key to energy efficiency in labs lies in simply practicing good management of cold storage spaces.

The Freezer Challenge began in 2017 from a partnership between My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) in hopes of curbing lab energy waste by promoting just that: safe and efficient cold storage management. Since the challenge has begun, participants from across the globe have joined the fight against energy waste. Any laboratory in the world that uses any type of cold storage space can participate in the freezer challenge.

UIC competes in the “academia” category alongside Chicagoland- area institutions including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, DePaul University, Midwestern University, and the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. Previous universities that have won the Academia category include UC San Diego and our very own in-state rival, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

 

The key to energy efficiency in labs lies in simply practicing good management of cold storage spaces.

UIC is a top public research institution and houses hundreds of freezers across East and West campus. With UIC’s health-focused colleges including the College of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, and others, we have the potential to contribute a massive amount of energy savings to the freezer challenge’s totals. During, the 2019 International Freezer Challenge, participants saved approximately 2.4 million Kilowatt Hours. That amount of saved electricity translates to 1,697 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, which is about the same as taking 360 cars off of the road for one year.

Living in an urban area makes it hard to connect with nature and watch a change in ecological environment. But the air quality in Chicago is filled with pollutants that cause health problems and aggravate existing conditions, all of which stem from the emissions produced from electricity production and power plants. UIC labs can do their part in making Chicago and better place to live by conserving energy in their workspace, and signing up to be part of UIC’s energy conservation efforts.

Aside from being sustainable and contributing in the fight against the climate crisis, labs can earn points to win the freezer challenge and earn significant recognition, including a feature in Nature, and other campus specific prizes!

Remember that practicing these sustainable techniques not only helps the planet and city around you, but also makes you eligible for grants. Don’t believe me? Competition for grant funding is already fierce—Imagine being able to brag about how sustainable your lab truly is and how many kilowatts you save just by defrosting and sharing! Pointing our your lab’s sustainability accomplishments can help you stand out from the competition.

Signing for the challenge is easier than you might think- to learn more and register, visit our website or email the UIC freezer challenge site coordinator, Emily Stearney, at stearney@uic.edu. The freezer challenge will email you the details and take care of the rest! Happy energy savings!

Sign up for the Freezer Challenge today!

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