10/31/2022 | Industrial Wastewater | 8 MINUTE READ

Sustainable Lab Practices and Lab Equipment Guide

sustainable lab practice

When you work in a lab that hasn’t implement sustainable lab practices, you’ll find that the lab produces a considerable amount of water and energy waste during experiments. There are many reasons why high amounts of waste are produced. For instance, it’s common for laboratories to regularly use single-use plastics while also relying on transnational shipping of various reagents.

It’s oftentimes necessary for samples to be stored on a long-term basis at the right temperatures. In this scenario, freezers might need to keep these samples at temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius. When operational, these freezers use up a large amount of energy. At the moment, the scientific industry is a sizable contributor to CO2 emissions across the world.

However, this sector is also where many advancements are being made to ensure that lab practices are more sustainable. Science is aiming to be more green in their overall pursuit of water innovation and conservation. Even the laboratories that have yet to focus on sustainable practices are being pressured to reduce the impact they have on the environment.

The area that has seen the most changes over the past few years is with laboratory equipment. Since each lab uses many different types of equipment to perform everyday experiments, addressing the sustainability of this equipment can reduce a laboratory’s carbon footprint.

The most advanced technologies are allowing reusable labware items to be made from materials that are energy-efficient and non-toxic. There are also numerous initiatives that are focused on making more informed decisions in lab settings. The focus of these initiatives is on pushing more laboratories to adopt green and sustainable measures. This guide takes a closer look at the latest sustainable lab practices.

sustainable equipment

New Technologies that Drive Sustainability

Over the past decade, many new technologies have been developed in an effort to make all aspects of water science more efficient and clean.

Nanotechnology in Filtration

Nanotechnology involves tiny machines that can be applied to every facet of science. This type of technology deals specifically with tolerances and dimensions that are less than 100 nanometers in size. It’s common for nanotechnology to be applied to the manipulation of molecules and atoms.

When looking specifically at water purification, nanotechnology is able to be used to separate chemicals, microbes, and similar pollutants from water in order to provide clean drinking water without needing to use processes that are labor-intensive. The three different nanotechnologies that can get rid of contaminants in water include:

  • Carbon nano-tubes
  • Nano-cellulose applications
  • Golden nano-particles

Membrane Chemistry

Membrane chemistry is another sustainable practice that’s becoming increasingly common among all laboratories. Water passes through membranes to be filtered and further purified, which means that these components are essential for modern water treatment systems. The pores that exist in membranes can be around 10-20 nano-meters wide, which is an example of ultrafiltration. This size is around 3,000 times finer when compared to a human hair.

Even though membrane chemistry has been available for numerous years, it has only recently begun to contribute to the development of sustainable water treatment solutions. The latest breakthroughs have allowed for the cost associated with desalinated water to be reduced from $1 for every cubic meter to around $0.80-$0.50. Advanced ceramic membranes have also resulted in more affordable treatment.

Seawater Desalination

Seawater desalination is a highly beneficial technology that’s still very expensive. The reverse osmosis technology that’s required for seawater desalination consumes a considerable amount of energy that’s measured at around four kilowatt hours for each cubic meter of water.

Over the years, many potential solutions have been developed and tested, most of which are designed to make seawater desalination more energy-efficient. For instance, Singapore created a seawater desalination plant in the early 21st century that focuses on making desalination more efficient. This particular plant has mimicked various biological processes from euryhaline fish and mangrove plants to remove seawater without using high amounts of energy.

Another potential solution involves using bio-mimetic membranes that are outfitted with aquaporin to move water in and out of various cells while blocking any salts.

seawater treatment

Smart Monitoring

A considerable amount of water is lost on a daily basis throughout municipalities as a result of leaks. No matter the size of the leak, any water that escapes from the pipe is lost. If a water distribution system isn’t outfitted with smart monitoring technology, it can take a lengthy amount of time for plant operators to become aware of the leaks. Along with being costly for the affected companies, leaks also create issues with water resources that are already stretched.

Smart monitoring technologies provide companies with the equipment they need to keep their water supply networks intact. Acoustic and pressure sensors can be connected wirelesslly for automatic leak detection via a centralized system.

Intelligent Irrigation

Intelligent irrigation technology is specifically beneficial for the agricultural industry. By implementing a more intelligent method for water management, farmers that are located in developed countries should benefit from these changes. This approach to irrigation uses precision irrigation systems alongside computer modeling and algorithms. Innovation in this technology occurs by focusing on the importance of forecasting and measuring.

reclaimed water

Wastewater Processing

Wastewater processing technology is necessary for making sure that untreated sewage isn’t discharged directly into the environment. Many areas across the U.S. don’t have the wastewater processing equipment needed to effectively treat sewage and wastewater, which means that the surrounding environment is damaged significantly.

The latest wastewater processing technologies provide several notable advantages. For instance, modular activated sludge digesters can remove nutrients from the water that can then be used as fertilizers, which reduces the amount of energy that’s needed for treatment.

Mobile Recycling Facilities

Mobile recycling facilities have become highly sought after in the global hydraulic fracturing industry. Reverse osmosis systems provide companies in this industry with the ability to treat large volumes of water in order to remove gas. Price tolerance in this industry is very low among most companies, which means that more affordable treatment systems should be developed as demand increases.

Glass pH Electrodes

If you want to maintain the quality of water, it’s essential to measure the water with a pH sensor, which tells you how acidic or alkaline the water is. There are several different types of electrodes that can be outfitted in pH sensor, the most effective of which is a glass pH electrode.

This type of electrode is suitable for providing better measurement accuracy while also extending the lifetime of the electrode. These electrodes also have great chemical compatibility, which means that you shouldn’t need to use a high number of pH electrodes over a short period of time.

glass ph electrodes

Green Initiatives Make Science More Sustainable

There are many green initiatives that have been pushing water science into the future of sustainability. Even though technological advancements have resulted in laboratories having access to more sustainable equipment, these labs are also tasked with changing some of their practices to be more efficient and sustainable. The simplest changes occur by making sure to turn off unimportant equipment overnight. Purchasing multi-use plastics can also be highly effective.

One green initiative that has proven to be successful is the My Green Lab ACT standard, which outfits laboratory products with environmental assessment labels. These labels include environmental impact scores for instruments, reagents, and products in regards to user impact, manufacturing, and end of life. Laboratories can use these labels to determine which products are best for the environment and facilitate a sustainable laboratory.

There are also many other initiatives that are focused on improving laboratory conditions and making them more sustainable. Some of the initiatives that you might want to be aware of include:

  • Arable – A real-time sensor and analytics platform that can be used for food systems and agriculture
  • Cloud to Street – A flood risk detection system that combines global satellites with community intelligence and machine learning
  • Drinkwell – Water ATMs that are used in communities affected by fluoride and arsenic
  • Ecosoftt – A low-cost solution for reusing wastewater that can be used in communities that aren’t directly connected to sewer or water networks
  • Fluid robotics – Robotic assessment and mapping tools that are able to immediately identify leaks in distribution networks
  • Electrolytic technologies – Chlorine generation that can be performed onsite, which gets rid of risks and costs associated with transporting chemicals to wastewater and water treatment plants
  • Oneka – Desalination technology that’s powered by waves to deliver autonomous production of drinking water in small island communities
  • SmartTerra – Intelligence for wastewater and water utilities to determine network health, increase revenues, and reduce water loss
  • Wonderkid – A mobile water management system that water utilities can use to improve their billing and customer care services

Moving Towards Eco-friendly Science

The entire water quality and treatment industry is moving towards Eco-friendly science based on a global drive for sustainable practices in all sectors. Even though science doesn’t have a great track record with sustainable practices, the initiatives mentioned previously are providing scientists with the means of reducing the carbon footprint of the work they do.

The ACT standard allows customers from laboratories to better identify lab equipment that has minimal environmental impact, which should make it easier for labs to move to greener and more sustainable products.

The introduction of new lab practices and lab equipment that are designed with sustainability in mind allows lab technicians to transition to a more Eco-friendly approach without needing to spend a considerable sum of money. Everything from glass pH electrodes to the ACT standard facilitate a more rapid transition.

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Posted by Dominic O'Donnell on October 31, 2022

Sensorex is a global leader in the design and manufacture of quality sensors for water quality and process applications. The company offers more than 2000 sensor packages for pH, ORP, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, free chlorine, chlorine dioxide, UV transmittance and other specialty measurements, as well as a full line of sensor accessories and transmitters. Its expert technical support engineers solve analytical sensor challenges with custom designs and off the shelf products.

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