The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, www.epa.gov) and the Department of Energy (DOE, www.doe.gov) are working on a joint venture called Labs21, which aims to reduce the energy consumption of science laboratories in the United States. Some of the steps labs are encouraged to implement as part of the program include: installing energy- and water-efficient equipment; incorporating sustainable design elements into new construction projects; improving operation and maintenance techniques; recovering exhaust heat energy and processing cooling water energy recovery cogeneration; using geothermal ground source heat pump systems for space heating, air conditioning, and water heating.

Labs21 has enlisted some of the biggest laboratory operators in the United States in an effort to corral energy consumption and cut attendant costs. According to the EPA, the program has resulted in energy savings of 533 trillion BTUs, or enough energy to power about 14,500 homes annually. On a square-foot basis, the EPA says laboratories can consume 10 times the energy of a typical office building.

One energy-intensive piece of equipment found in most laboratories is the traditional fume hood, which maintains safe air quality in a laboratory and can gulp as much energy in a year as three American households. According to the EPA, many U.S. laboratories have more than 50 fume hoods in a single building. The Labs21 solution is straightforward: install fume hoods that provide airflow only when the device is in use.

The Labs21 program has expanded since its inception in 1999 to include 79 chemical and biological laboratories that occupy 13.7 million square feet. Participating labs are saving up to 30-50 percent on their energy bills compared with those not participating, according to the EPA.

As the “green labs” concept broadens, the EPA says new laboratory construction is achieving significant reductions in energy use when compared with older facilities. Under the program, Labs21 partners and two EPA labs have been certified gold in the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. The Labs21 high-performance, low-energy design methods can help laboratory owners meet and exceed their energy and sustainability goals.

For more information about Labs21, visit www.epa.gov/lab21gov/.