Environmental prize to eco-friendly lab
Anna Malmström and Lars Gustavsson in the Laboratory of Organic Electronics, Department of Science and Technology, have been awarded the LiU Environmental Prize, presented this year for the fourteenth time. The award recognises their initiative in constructing two new laboratories that focus on reduced consumption of energy and resources.
The Laboratory of Organic Electronics was bursting at the seams. In ten years, it had grown from 30 co-workers to around 130, from 30 different countries. The very last square metre of the laboratories in Täppan had been taken into use a few years ago. Now the lab has crossed over Strömmen to new premises in Pronova. And here, new environmentally sensitive and energy-efficient laboratories have been constructed.
“The labs are not quite finished yet, but we’ve started quietly moving in”, says Lars Gustavsson, principal research engineer and technical specialist as he shows us round together with colleague and laboratory manager Anna Malmström. It’s planned that the labs will be finally ready in the summer.
“We started building here in the summer of 2019. We visited a trade fair for the chemistry industry in Stockholm around then and discovered the energy-efficient and eco-friendly fume cupboards”, says Anna Malmström.
The pandemic has delayed things, but now 17 of these fume cupboards have been installed in the labs. And they got a good deal from the supplier, since they were ordering so many. These cupboards are equipped with presence sensors that close the front and switch off the lights when no-one is close by. This function gives lower energy consumption for both the extraction air ventilation and the illumination.
“A fume cupboard needs a continuous supply of air, and it needs huge volumes”, Lars Gustavsson explains. “If the cupboards are left open, the air passes straight through them and into the surroundings.”
“A fume cupboard left open consumes between 20,000 and 25,000 kWh per year. That’s as much as a medium-sized house”, says Anna Malmström. A further benefit from keeping fume cupboards closed when they’re not in use is that scientists don’t need to stand and work in a continuous draught, since the supply air doesn’t need to flow as rapidly.
The new labs have other energy-efficient solutions.
- Heat is recycled from the extracted air that otherwise would simply be lost to the surroundings. This means that the energy consumption for other heating in the premises can be halved.
- The chemical cabinets are equipped with fire baffles, making each cabinet an isolated fire compartment. This means that it is not necessary to build firewalls inside the laboratory.
- Waste is discarded into ventilated containers located under the fume cupboards to prevent any smell.
- Nearly all the furniture in the communal areas has come from Återbruket.
“We’re great friends with Återbruket at LiU, and we’ve tried to use furniture and fittings from there”, says Anna Malmström. “We haven’t managed to find everything we need, but we have used as much as possible. We’ve bought some of the laboratory equipment second-hand.”
The new labs extend across 400 square metres and will be used for research into the organic synthesis of conjugated polymers, the synthesis of electrolytes, the synthesis of battery components, and the characterisation and test of materials and components produced. They will not be used in teaching. Around 35 scientists work in the labs, and they have found the work environment here to be much better than a “normal” laboratory.
The award of the Environmental Prize is usually a dignified event with a diploma, flowers and socialising. For obvious reasons, the ceremony this year was held using remote methods. But even a remote ceremony can be full of atmosphere and a great event. Many people were “present”, to watch Vice-Chancellor Jan-Ingvar Jönsson award the prize. He describes this as one of the most gratifying jobs he has had as vice-chancellor.
“This is an opportunity to celebrate good examples. Small things can make a big difference, and their significance must not be underestimated.”
The awards ceremony also honoured David Ekholm, senior lecturer in social work and postdoc at the Centre for Local Government Studies. He received an honorary award for his conscious choice of service-related travel in the year before the outbreak of the pandemic. He chose to participate in digital meetings in preference to physical meetings, and when travel was necessary, to use trains rather than airplanes.
Your reaction on receiving the award?
“We were surprised, and really pleased. I had read about the Environmental Prize and seen the previous winners, but never imagined that it could be anything for us. Now we have not only great new labs, but also a prize”, says Lars Gustavsson.
“I’m proud”, says Anna Malmström. “We have created something that makes work easier and saves energy.”
Anna and Lars say that they form a great team and work well together. Anna knows about chemistry, Lars technology, and both have worked in laboratories for many years. What’s the inspiration for their work with environmental and energy-related issues?
“Well, we’re both generally interested in environmental issues, and we realise that it’s important to preserve resources and save energy. In addition, we have the technical knowledge needed to put ideas into practice”, says Anna Malmström.
“And our division has to pay for energy from its own budget. Being able to reduce costs and use the money for other things is a great incentive”, says Lars Gustavsson. “Otherwise, energy costs just get classified as overheads, and you never see how much you’re saving.”
So – is this how all labs will be in the future?
“If anyone is starting the process of renovating a laboratory – come and look at what we’ve done!”, says Lars Gustavsson. “And if you’re planning on buying a new fume cupboard, make sure that it is like the ones we have here.”
Photo: Anna Nilsen
Translated by George Farrants
Last updated: 2021-02-15