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Sustainable Laboratory Design and Construction: Changes and Trends

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 9:18am
Tim Studt

New standards are driving sustainable technologies for the future.

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The latest update seen in LEED v4, released in November 2013, provides a small glimpse of the expected changes in where sustainability efforts will be focused over the next several years. While some of the LEED certification changes are a little bit more of the same, just reworded and retitled, changes such as the holistic approach to materials analyses, lifecycle considerations, multiple metering (monitoring) requirements and acoustics performance establish new challenges for submitters.

Numerous LEED v4 Gold and Platinum pre-certification awards have already been obtained for several projects. Pre-certification has been allowed for LEED v4 in attempts by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to convert applicants over from LEED 2009, for which applications will continue to be accepted through June 2015 (applications will be accepted for either version during this period). The fact that LEED v4 has been released with significant updates and is supported internationally will surely continue to build its reputation for being an international sustainable building construction standard.

The current National Building Information Modeling (BIM) Standard Version 2 was released in May 2012, with 27 Version 3 updates voted on and approved this past March. The V3 updates include more detailed information on HVAC, electrical, plumbing, lifecycle, materials and other specific and general topics. The scheduled release of NBIM-US V3 is in the Fall of 2014. Most foreign countries (such as the U.K., Ireland, Canada, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand) generally use new NBIM-US updates as the basis for their own standards. Each nation adds more content as needed and share their updates back in the U.S.—these include translations, conversions into metric and various equipment-specific templates.

NBIM-US is an initiative of the private, non-profit National Institute of Building Sciences, Washington, D.C. This organization also launched the 2012 Vision Task Force (VTF) in 2013 to focus on defining, forecasting and projecting the future of the building industry to gain insights into what the NBIM-US will need to support that future. The initial effort of the 2021 VTF was to collect essays from specific subject matter experts about the nature of their role, profession or industry as they expect it to be in 10 years. Those essays are now posted on their Website, www.nationalbimstandard.org/vision2021.

What New Sustainable Lab Design and Construction Technologies Have You Seen?
Automation in analyzers and instruments with ease of operations and quickness in reporting
LED lighting; external slats above the windows for seasonal sunlight control
Waste to energy, co-generation
Smart lighting systems
Chemical sensor system to manage air change rates more efficiently
Chilled beams
Energy recovery wheels and “green” rooftop systems
Solar panel renewable energy systems
Lower cost photovoltaic cells
Solvent recycling systems
Central chemical waste recycling and reduction
Modular construction with “green” materials and smart controls for heating and lighting
Integration of sustainable lab design features into STEM course curricula as part of science on display
New materials for lab furniture
Ductless fume hoods
Retrofitting our existing facility to LEED Gold
Energy Star freezers
Net-Zero Energy Lab at Craig Venter Institute
Power electronics that are pollution free, cost effective and more reliable
Flexible design, daylighting and heat recovery strategies
Video conferencing connectivity

Academic Starts
About 60% of U.S. basic research, or $50 billion, is performed in academic institutions, with nearly $63 billion overall being spent on all R&D in academia. The vast majority of this work is performed in research labs. Academia has taken the lead in creating sustainable infrastructures, models and innovations. These initiatives will only increase in scope and become resources for technology and innovation.

The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), New York, for example, has established interdisciplinary sustainability programs that integrate engineering and science with economics and public policy. Among their numerous other manufacturing, engineering and technology Centers, RIT has:

  • Center for Sustainable Mobility for research in transportation, renewable energy and fuel cells
  • Center for Sustainable Production for enhancing the environmental and economic performance of products and processes
  • The Golisano Institute for Sustainability focusing on interdisciplinary education, research and technology transfer in sustainable design, manufacturing and development
  • Sustainable Energy Systems Research Group focusing on new energy and environmental systems
  • Sustainable Print Systems Lab focusing on the development of sustainable designs and tools for the print industry
  • Systems Modernization and Sustainment Center for developing sustainable systems for commercial and military equipment and support systems.

In fact, most universities now support or have multiple centers for sustainable education and research. Research labs at Harvard Univ., for example, account for nearly 50% of the energy use at the school, but only take up about 23% of the space. Resource conservation and energy efficiency in these labs are of significant importance to meeting the university’s stated goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Harvard has initiated numerous student and faculty-supported programs to reduce fume hood energy requirements, establish best practices for lab freezers, find chemical alternatives, implement packaging reductions and find new ways for recycling, equipment reuse, lighting reductions, general education programs and overall green lab certification programs.

The Center for Sustainable Building Research at the Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, has worked with outside groups to create tools for determining lifecycle impacts on buildings including the establishment of an extensive materials database; development of decision-making tools and information for windows and glazing systems; and assisting in the establishment of programs for local communities on sustainable building designs.

What Should Be Done to Promote Sustainable Lab Design and Construction?
Improve the efficacy of rules —Many regulations are based on incorrect assumptions and don’t make sense.
Designs first need to be realized where the technology will be useful and not affect lab productivity.
All building materials should be at LEED levels so designers don't have to work so hard to get and certify them.
Work more closely with actual lab occupants.
ROI justification and industry benefits need to be enhanced.
Organizations need to be forced to use lower energy fume hoods, since traditional versions use so much energy.
Verify that “savings” are real, not just chosen to “buy” LEED points.
Clear supported evidence that the addition of “green” technologies leads to long-term operational savings.
If the initial costs were to decrease, it would lead to growth.
Owners need to take the lead in having less monetary goals and more intrinsic goals.

Government Support
The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) is obviously a big supporter of sustainable designs through programs at its national labs. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California, in addition to its traditional sustainability and energy-efficiency technology development programs, has taken steps to reduce water use in response to the extreme drought conditions on the West Coast and to meet long-term water conservation goals. Sustainability officers at the lab have developed a Lab Water Action Plan that monitors and addresses water use on a daily basis, irrigation systems, fixture retrofits, waste issues, cooling tower operation, overall water-related energy requirements and even food consumption.

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The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, Colo., has as its mission the development of enhanced energy and sustainability technologies from the development of new highly efficient photovoltaics and wind-generating turbines to the establishment of state-of-the-art research lab facilities. NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) is the latest example of these efforts. ESIF is R&D Magazine’s 2014 Laboratory of the Year award winner for its engineering, technology, planning and program development. A LEED 2009 Platinum certified facility, ESIF optimizes the design and performance of electrical, thermal and fuel systems at different and interrelated scales, ranging from homes and businesses to communities and cities and even on to regional and national infrastructures. ESIF sets standards for sustainable development that are likely to be integrated and implemented in numerous other sustainable research labs.

Industrial Support
LEED 2009 Platinum certification is not limited to academic and government facilities. The J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI) located on the Univ. of California, San Diego, campus has received the Platinum award for its combination of numerous sustainable features. Touted as the first carbon-neutral, net-zero energy lab, the 44,600-ft2 facility features wet and dry labs, offices and conference spaces all planned to foster collaboration. Reducing energy use within the lab is just one aspect of its design. From numerous water-saving features to photovoltaic panels to the inclusion of induction beams and an intelligent building system, this lab structure makes people immediately aware of their environment. Other sustainable design elements include: green roofs, recycled content, rainwater harvesting, use of regional materials, native low-water landscaping, wind and PV alternative renewable energy sources, natural daylighting and views, natural ventilation and passive cooling, on-site treatment and reuse of wastewater and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood.

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One design feature for the JVCI was to locate the computational labs and other non-lab spaces in one wing and wet labs in the other wing to optimize the overall mechanical system. This led to two independent HVAC solutions—single-pass air with heat recovery in the wet labs and more passive heating and cooling in the dry spaces, taking advantage of the mostly benign Southern California climate. The wings are oriented east-west to minimize solar exposures, and lab support spaces are located to the south to reduce solar cooling loads. In addition to these reduced energy-consumption designs, creating flexible spaces that don’t require extensive renovation can reduce the embedded energy of the construction materials over the lifecycle of the building. The San Diego JVCI took advantage of the established JVCI in Rockville, Md. To properly size electrical and HVAC systems for the West Coast facility, the Institute’s East Coast labs were metered, allowing the design teams to design to actual loads.

The sustainability features created for the West Coast JCVI are being used by the facility planner, ZGF Architects, as an integrated design to advance innovative sustainability features on a new generation of private and government-funded projects with limited budgets and strong sustainability requirements.

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