houston voices

Houston expert shares tips for shrinking your lab's carbon footprint

Here's some advice for going green in the lab. Graphic by Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Trying to make your lab greener? Here are some practical examples of how to reduce your lab's carbon footprint and increase sustainability. Since China stopped accepting certain types of plastic waste from the United States and Europe in 2017, the need to dispose of hundreds of single-use plastic vials and other materials (per researcher, each year!) has created an avalanche of waste.

The "single use" problem

COVID-19 has led to even more single-use plastics in labs – and in our everyday lives. The sheer number of gloves, testing kits and even masks we throw away is incredible. "The majority of masks are manufactured from long-lasting plastic materials, and if discarded can persist in the environment for decades to hundreds of years," wrote authors from the University of Portsmouth at the Conversation.com.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Labs are full of other single-use plastics such as pipette tips, weighing boats, tubes, flasks, reagent bottles, cuvettes, and more. 'Reduce, reuse and recycle' is a fine mantra, but how do researchers cut down on plastics when the sterility of equipment is a concern?

According to the UK's Chemical and Engineering News magazine, "Different users have optimized washing protocols to get pipette tips clean enough for different lab techniques, including mass spectrometry or toxicology and immunology assays.

Earlier this year, for example, researchers at the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences found their washed pipettes gave the same results as new tips for preparing small-interfering-RNA screening libraries." Customers of Grenova, a lab equipment firm, have reported that some tips can reused 25-40 times.

Baby it's cold

In Nature, Jyoti Madhusoodanan wrote: "Scientists are increasingly aware of the disproportionate environmental footprint of their research. Academic research facilities consume three to six times as much energy as commercial buildings, much of that due to refrigeration and ventilation systems." The has led some third-party "green companies" employed by labs to hold entire conferences around ultra-low temperature freezers. In a feature advertisement in Nature Portfolio, a statistic read: "An average Ultra-Low Temperature freezer consumes as much energy as a single-family home (~20 kWh/day)."

Help for scientists

There are non-profits that will help you mitigate the amount of waste produced by your lab. One of these, My Green Lab, said on its website: "Run 'for scientists, by scientists,' we leverage our credibility and track record to develop standards, oversee their implementation, and inspire the many behavioral changes that are needed throughout the scientific community."

And it offers a free training course for "ambassadors" – those who would like to guide their lab toward sustainable practices.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

Trending News