Labs reduce energy in annual cold storage competition

Campus Sustainability Office September 13, 2021
Researcher using lab freezer
Cold storage used in laboratory research are one of the largest sources of energy use on campus. Small changes to energy management can provide huge cost and carbon savings, without compromising research endeavors. | Photo: Cornell Photography

Labs are one of the most resource-intensive spaces in any industry. But small changes to cold storage can help change that.

For the third year, Cornell participated in a global energy-saving competition - the Freezer Challenge - which encourages friendly competition between research-intensive laboratories that rely on cold storage. Organizers  My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories emphasize good management practices, such as “temperature tuning” (an effort to store lab samples are appropriately timed intervals) and retiring and replacing inefficient refrigeration units to make labs more energy efficient.

Cornell champions reduce energy during competition

  Laboratories are highly energy-intensive.  For instance, Bradfield Hall is one of Cornell’s most energy-intensive buildings on campus. According to Harvard University, a typical science laboratory uses more than three times as much energy per square foot as an entire office building.  This year, three Cornell labs elected to participate competition: Wang LabBarstow Lab, and Bogdanove Lab.

Together, the three competitors saved a total of 49 kWh/day. Overall, the Wang lab provided the largest energy savings throughout the challenge, saving 36.5 kWh/day.

Bogdanove Lab saved 4.2 kWh/day, and Barstow saved 8.3 kWh/day.

Global impact from reducing freezer energy use

The challenge is designed to encourage laboratories to recognize the benefits of energy efficiency and good cold storage management.

Over 100 research institutions from 17 countries participated in this year's competition. Their combined efforts saved 4.6 million kWh of electricity, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 3,260 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Since the competition began in 2017, it is estimated participants have saved over 9.9 million kWh of energy.

Congratulations to the Wang Lab as our 2021 Freezer Challenge winner, saving 36.5 kWh of electricity daily, and to all of our Cornell labs who participated.

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This story was written by Natalie Monticello, Sustainable Communications Content Specialist, Campus Sustainability Office