Berkeley's Green Labs program pump up the water savings

December 8, 2017

As a part of the UC Berkeley Green Labs (GLs) program, recent efforts this semester focused on recirculating water within the College of Chemistry from traditional chemical condensation reactions. It is estimated that a typical column reaction consumes 3,600 liters of water for every 24 hours. After discovering that some groups were running continuous reactions for days or even weeks at a time, GLs grew determined to collaborate with these labs to help them achieve their water-saving potential.

The project involved supplying six labs with approximately 60 fish pumps, each set up with traditional laboratory glassware and a small reservoir to recirculate water for cooling condenser columns. This recirculation process counters once-through use, during which water is flushed through the glassware then down the drain. The total cost of each fish pump and tubing is less than $20.

The Long Lab was recognized as being one of the first adopters of this simple technology on campus, and these efforts were modeled after their work. Following Long’s initial implementation, the 60 additional fish pumps within Chemistry are now being used by the following research groups: Alivisatos, Arnold, Francis, Katz, Toste and Tilley.

The Sarpong Lab is actually using two air-cooled Findenser columns--adding a seventh lab to the water-saving effort. Findenser columns are shrouded with aluminum and do not use any water in their operation. The Findenser column cost is a bit higher (about $350-$400 per unit), but still worth the payback in water savings while avoiding the risk of possible flooding.

Among these labs with the combined effort of equipment, it is expected that the pumps and Findenser columns will result in extensive water savings of approximately 1.5 million gallons per year, accompanied by tremendous financial savings of approximately $7,000--given the relatively inexpensive cost of a single fish pump apparatus and a few air-cooled columns (a total cost of $1,500).

Most recently, GLs has been leading additional water conservation efforts regarding the submetering and retrofit viability of on-campus autoclaves, which as UCSF has suggested, are one of the major sources of water consumption among lab equipment. The Life Sciences Addition (LSA) building, specifically, holds the greatest number of autoclaves on campus. Most of these autoclaves are extremely outdated models having been installed in 1987, and as such, GLs is currently assessing the possibility of introducing a water recirculation feature to help counteract the massive levels of water used during their typical operation.

After evaluating the considerable savings achieved through the implementation of these water reduction measures, GLs encourages all campuses to explore these options, and looks forward to saving more water in the future.

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