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Analytica 2024: Making Laboratories Greener

Analytica 2024: Making Laboratories Greener
Improving sustainability in the laboratory was a key topic of discussion at Analytica 2024. (Credit: iStock)

Improving sustainability in the laboratory was a key topic of discussion at Analytica 2024 in Munich, from April 9 to 12. From the use of high-energy devices and methods of analysis to ways of reducing water consumption and waste, experts and exhibitors discussed challenges and solutions. 

Sustainability consultant and owner of NIUB Sustainability Consultancy, Dr. Kerstin Hermuth-Kleinschmidt, is one of the experts speaking at a session entitled Towards a More Sustainable Lab. She explained:

“Using the Ecomapping method, I guide individuals in assessing various environmental aspects such as energy use, water consumption, chemicals, consumables management and safety within their labs.

When asking those working in the lab about their biggest concerns, two main issues consistently arise—the significant amount of plastics generated daily and the high energy consumption attributed to instruments such as freezers, incubators, autoclaves and fume hoods, which are the biggest energy users in labs. 

By addressing these aspects, labs can already significantly reduce their environmental impact and resource usage.”

The five Rs—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replace and Rethink

According to her, the energy consumption of freezers can be reduced by about 30% (depending on the model and age of the freezer) by switching from -80°C to -70°C. She added:

“I know there are doubts as to whether -70 deg C is as safe for your samples as -80 deg C, but there are plenty of examples of groups storing their samples at -70 deg C without harming their samples. 

Other measures include good equipment management by avoiding stand-by and switching off equipment that is not in use. 

Plastic presents a more complex challenge, but by examining routines and reconsidering your experimental approach, improvements can be achieved. 

I recommend the principles of the five Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle, replace and rethink.”

The increasingly significant amount of plastics generated daily in labs is one of the biggest concerns. (Credit: iStock)
The increasingly significant amount of plastics generated daily in the lab is one of the biggest concerns. (Credit: iStock)

Dr. Hermuth-Kleinschmidt also cites the example of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), one of the most commonly used techniques for separating and identifying samples in analytical chemistry. Routinely used in laboratories, it involves large amounts of often harmful solvents. She said:

“Acetonitrile is the most commonly used solvent due to its properties and is often difficult to replace. But by switching to µLC or nanoLC instruments, the amount of sample and solvent can be drastically reduced.”

Sustainability in Liquid Chromatography

HPLC is also addressed by Dr. Andreas Otto, Product Marketing Manager Technical Marketing LC and CE, Liquid Phase Separations Division, Agilent Technologies Deutschland GmbH.

“Liquid chromatography in general is a great way of separating complex mixtures even to the state that the separated compounds can be purified after separation. Due to its universal applicability, you can find ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) in nearly all analytical labs all over the world. 

It is a truly universal technique with an uncountable number of applications spanning from life science, chemical industry, food analysis, materials analysis and many more.”

He said that until a few years ago, the main drivers for using specific HPLC (including UHPLC) methods and instrumentation were analytical performance (best separation of the compounds in a given complex mixture), efficiency of running analyses (time and costs), robustness and quality and general usability for the user interacting with the instrument in different laboratory/company settings. 

“Now, with sustainability becoming a key requirement, from the standpoint of users, lab managers, and the procurement department, HPLC instruments and methods are reassessed from multiple angles. 

This includes considering sustainable operations, meeting carbon reduction goals, and assessing the environmental footprint.”

Another concern is the high energy consumption attributed to instruments such as freezers, incubators, autoclaves and fume hoods. (Credit: iStock)
Another concern is the high energy consumption attributed to instruments such as freezers, incubators, autoclaves and fume hoods. (Credit: iStock)

Recognized for its robust and reliable instrumentation Agilent also offers the possibility of maintaining the performance of its instruments for over 10 years through its InfinityLab consumables (e.g. long-life lamps for detection modules), repair parts and a global service organization. 

“Additional to this, the modular approach to our instruments allows for on-demand change in capabilities of the UHPLC stacks and upgradability according to the actual needs of a lab. 

Since the beginning of our LC journey, Agilent has embraced a circular economy in terms of repairability, lifetime duration and upgradeability, Agilent Certified Pre-Owned Instruments is unique. 

It enables us to offer factory refurbished and rigorously tested instruments with a one-year factory warranty. This prevents functioning modules entering the last state of the life cycle of being scrapped or recycled but to serve further in analytical labs.”

Green Sample Preparation

Professor Elia Psillakis, School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Crete, focuses on green sample preparation. 

“We develop microextraction methods in particular that are solventless, fast and energy efficient. In the headspace mode, we replace sample heating with vacuum sampling to accelerate the extraction of semi volatiles. This saves time and energy but also avoids artefact formation.

Sample preparation continues to represent a major source of the total negative impact of analytical methodologies on the environment. Early sample preparation methodologies were tedious, time-consuming, and, more importantly, expended large quantities of resources that resulted in the generation of hazardous laboratory waste. 

The importance of sample preparation in settling greener analytical methods is clearly reflected in the fact that the first principle of green analytical chemistry (GAC) suggests using direct analytical techniques to avoid sample preparation.”

(Credit: Professor Elia Psillakis)
(Credit: Professor Elia Psillakis)
(Credit: Professor Elia Psillakis)

She added:

“In 2022, together with a group of international experts we introduced the concept of green sample preparation, formulated in the form of 10 principles. 

We provided a road map toward the development of overall greener analytical methodologies. The introduction of this concept boosted research and increased the visibility of the efforts made in this area.”

Working Together

From today’s perspective, the idea of a completely green lab is still a challenge, according to Dr. Hermuth-Kleinschmidt.

“It seems hard to imagine eliminating plastic completely, devices have to run around the clock and solvents or chemicals are often not easy to replace. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on solutions and develop the vision of a green laboratory. 

For me, it is a lab where we avoid harmful substances; replace plastic where feasible; reduce and use it in a way that it can be part of a true circular economy through recycling and using alternative resources for its production.

We also need to use and share equipment wisely, use renewable energy to run the labs and reduce our resource consumption as much as possible.

The good news is that there are already alternatives and new technologies, such as plastics from waste streams or devices that use less energy and/or water.”

She added:

“But above all, all players in the life sciences need to work together to achieve the goal of a green lab—from the people working in the lab to the manufacturers offering innovative solutions and support.”