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

Here's some advice for going green in the lab. Graphic byMiguel 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.

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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.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Quidnet Energy has secured funding from a Department of Energy program. Image via quidnetenergy.com

A Houston-based company that's got a solution to renewable energy storage has just secured funding from a federal entity.

The U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, is granting Quidnet Energy $10 million in funding, the Houston company announced this week. The funding is a part of the ARPA-E Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy technologies with Untapped Potential, the SCALEUP program. This initiative is aimed at providing funding to previous ARPA-E teams "that have been determined to be feasible for widespread deployment and commercialization domestically," per a news release.

“We’re honored that ARPA-E has selected Quidnet Energy as an awardee of the SCALEUP program,” says Joe Zhou, CEO of Quidnet Energy, in the release. “This funding will support continued work on our Geomechanical Pumped Storage (GPS) project with CPS Energy, which will demonstrate the benefits of using proven pumped hydro technology to create a long-duration energy storage resource that doesn’t require mountainous terrain. We look forward to continuing our partnership with CPS Energy and thank ARPA-E for acknowledging the potential of GPS for long-duration storage.”

The company's technology can store renewable energy for long periods of time in large quantities. The process includes storing pressurized water underground and, when the stored energy is needed, the water propels hydroelectric turbines and produces the electricity to support the grid at a fraction of the cost, per the news release. The concept is similar to existing gravity-powered pumped storage, but with less land required.

The fresh funding will be used toward Quidnet Energy’s ongoing project with San Antonio-based utilitary provider CPS Energy. This collaboration is scaling the company's GPS to a 1 MW/10 MWh commercial system, per the release, that will provide CPS Energy with over 10 hour long-duration energy storage system.

In 2020, Quidnet closed its $10 million series B financing round and secured a major contract with the New York State Energy Development Authority. The series B round included participation from Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Canada-based Evok Innovations, which both previously invested in the company, as well as new investors Trafigura and The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

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