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A World of Ways to Reduce Water in Labs

World Water Day, celebrated last month, is a time to recognize the importance of clean water in communities across the globe. To share ways to save this precious resource in labs, the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) hosted a forum on water reduction and reuse as part of its Circular Economy for Labs Community of Practice webinar series. On behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense® program, Robbie Pickering of ERG shared a variety of water efficiency best management practices for lab owners, managers, designers, engineers, and researchers:


Beyond maintaining, retrofitting, and replacing this equipment to reuse or save water, Robbie noted, the elimination of single-pass cooling could provide the single greatest water savings to laboratories. Robbie also noted how labs with cooling towers can reduce water use through energy efficiency improvements; when the overall cooling load is reduced, less potable water is consumed and lost to evaporation.


Ensuring Autoclaves Operate Efficiently


Star Scott, Green Labs program manager at the University of Georgia (UGA), presented UGA’s approach to reducing the water used in autoclaves. Many autoclaves use potable water to reduce the temperature of steam condensate before it is discharged to the sewer. The flow of water can be moderated by a solenoid valve, but if this valve fails, it fails open, meaning that water will flow unregulated and could unknowingly waste millions of gallons of water per year. Star explained that, if there is a gurgling sound near the drain of an autoclave when it is not in use, there is most likely a failed valve.


To address this, Star said, the Green Labs program displayed signage on UGA’s autoclaves describing how to detect a failed valve. With this greater awareness on campus, eight valves have been replaced at UGA. Star noted, however, that the valve upkeep and replacement may be covered by an institutional maintenance contract, and that Green Labs professionals may need to work with researchers to help them understand that a replacement is necessary, even if a stuck valve does not affect their research.


Going Waterless With Condensers


Kate Andrews is the Green Labs and Energy Program coordinator at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, where she said a typical single-pass, water-cooled condenser in a lab can send 60 to 240 liters (or about 16 to 62 gallons) of water per hour down the drain. Through water metering, her team found that an estimated 4.2 million liters of water could be saved by replacing single-pass condensers with waterless condensers, saving about $6,200 per year (Canadian dollars).


To encourage researchers to use these condensers and the university to make the investment, the Green Labs team is piloting a Waterless Condenser Lending Program. Asynt CondenSyn and Findenser waterless condensers are available to any researchers upon request; the team also worked with UBC’s Chemistry Department and Sustainability Committee to find interested researchers to participate. After two months of using the condensers, researchers receive a survey to provide feedback on the equipment, which will be shared more broadly with the university and the community.


Keeping Water in Circulation


The new Lehigh University Health Science Technology (HST) Building in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, showcases a variety of water-efficient features, according to Patrick Murphy of Vanderweil Engineers. In the HST building, Vanderweil incorporated a reclaimed water system that collects HVAC condensate and roof rainwater and treats the rainwater for reuse in indoor and outdoor irrigation and toilet flushing. Designing the mechanical system to use an air-cooled chiller also eliminated the need for a cooling tower, reducing the building’s water demand. Thanks to these features, the HST building has achieved 76 percent whole-building potable water savings compared to similar facilities. The building saves an estimated 688,000 gallons of potable water annually, which is enough to fill Lehigh’s varsity pool 2.5 times.


For more information about saving water in labs, read the Water Efficiency in Laboratories Best Practices Guide I2SL published with WaterSense, including specific guides for saving water in water purification systems, vacuum pumps, and vivarium washing and watering systems. In addition to lab-specific savings, WaterSense has best practices on water reuse opportunities; visit the WaterSense at Work website for more information.


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