Chill Out and Chill Up

Last spring, Michael Smith Laboratories was the first department at UBC to take the Chill Up Challenge to reduce energy consumption and increase longevity of Ultra-Low Temperature freezers. These freezers, also known as ULTs, are essential to research at UBC, preserving millions of precious samples. A standard ULT freezer set at -80°C consumes as much electricity per year as a single family home.

Research has shown that increasing ULT temperatures by ten degrees (from -80°C to -70°C) is safe for many sample types and can reduce a freezer’s energy consumption by as much as 40%. Jade Shiller of the Hallam Lab explains, “By chilling up our freezers, we not only reduce our carbon footprint, but we also prolong the life of our freezers. That means fewer midnight freezer emergencies, and that is a huge relief!”.  With a 61% participation rate, Michael Smith Laboratories have reduced annual electricity consumption by 45,000 kWh, or over four single family homes.

UBC Life Science Center (LSC), the largest research facility at UBC, houses 88 research labs, and claims the title of largest building on campus at 52,000 square meters. While LEED certified and fitted with energy-saving features such as a dynamic monitoring system for interior lighting, research equipment such as ULTs make a significant contribution to building’s electricity consumption. This winter, LSC researchers took the Chill Up Challenge. 40% of eligible ULT freezers are now set to -70°C. Through chill up, LSC is saving over 71,500 kWh of electricity per year, equivalent to the annual electricity consumed by seven and a half single family homes.

The Chill Up Challenge fits into the university’s overarching sustainability goals, including UBC’s Climate Action Plan and energy reduction goals, by engaging and educating researchers on an impactful energy saving behaviour. Other conservation efforts underway in the labs include Shut the Sash, which addresses the large volume of conditioned air that moves through fume hoods by encouraging researchers to close fume hood sashes when not in use.

Reini Kappelhoff, lab manager for the Overall Lab in LSC, has been operating her lab’s ULT at -70°C for many years and encourages others to make the change as well. Kappelhoff mentions that lab managers may be skeptical of making the switch to -70°C, but the data doesn’t indicate any reason to be concerned. She adds “these ten degrees will not make any difference in their samples, but a huge difference in their energy savings”. For many labs in the building, making the transition from -80°C to -70°C was natural. In fact for the Devine Lab it was such a smooth transition that Lab manager Katherine Serrano states “no one would have noticed in the lab the difference”.

Serrano notes there’s no real reason why any lab shouldn’t take on the Chill Up Challenge. To other labs at UBC and other universities across Canada, she says “do it!”.

The Chill Up Challenges were organized by UBC Sustainability & Engineering with help from the Michael Smith Laboratories and Life Sciences Centre Sustainability Coordinators and BC Hydro’s Energy Wise program.  Learn how to Chill Up your lab or become a lab Sustainability Coordinator today!