Western putting old, inefficient units on ice

Paul Mayne//Western NewsKyle Pollard, Manager of Operations and Safety (Biochemistry), checks out one of the new ultra-low (sub minus-80 degrees C) freezers installed in Western’s Medical Sciences Building. Thanks to a government grant and seed money from Fisher Scientific, 34 new freezer units are replacing more than half of the university’s aging fleet – a project that will bring close to $25,000 annually in energy cost savings.

A handful of Western researchers find themselves in a permanent deep freeze – and they couldn’t be happier.

Thanks to an energy reduction government grant, along with discounted prices and seed money from a national equipment vendor, 34 researchers now have brand new ultra-low (sub minus-80 degrees C) freezers for their work on campus.  The new batch replace more than half of the ultra-low fleet of freezers on campus – and will bring close to $25,000 annually in energy cost savings.

The university budgeted close to $535,000 to spend on the new freezer units, explained Elizabeth Krische, Associate Vice-President (Facilities Management), thanks to a combination of vendor deals from Fisher Scientific and funds from the government’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program. The only additional cost to Western was the set-up of the new freezers and the disposal of the old units.

Thirty-four of the university’s 55 oldest ultra-low freezers are being replaced at a cost of approximately $16,000 each. Given the popularity of the new devices, a lottery was held for researchers in need of a new unit. Twenty were installed prior to Christmas; 14 more will be in place by the end of March.

“Some of the old freezers are energy hogs. So it all came together as a great plan. It’s made quite the difference,” added Krische, noting the new units can even be connected directly to researchers phones to control temperatures or ensure doors haven’t been left open by mistake. “Over time, they’re really going to be paying for themselves.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kirsty Reid, Region Manager for Thermo Fisher Scientific (Lab Equipment), said the new units are “like night and day” when compared to the older freezers. Not only is there more capacity, they are more compact, some going from 41 inches wide down to just 28 inches.

“Real estate is an absolute premium when it comes to research areas and when you don’t have a lot of space this makes a huge difference,” Reid said. “The fact you can now push your capacity with a smaller footprint, better technology and being much more energy efficient, is great news for researchers.”

A number of the older energy-intensive freezers in Western’s labs – some pushing close to 30 years – can use up to 30 kilowatts per hour. The new freezers, depending on the model, are down between 7-10 kilowatts per hour.

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor Kibret Mequanint, who received one of the units, said having an ultra-low temperature freezer, capable of maintaining -80°C without pause or downtime, is essential for keeping his cell culture products viable.

While his previous freezer was over 10 years old, working nicely and well maintained, it was “an energy monster,” using more than 21 kilowatts per hour.

“That’s equivalent to the average electricity consumption of typical residential apartment in a low-rise building,” said Mequanint, adding it’s the same as a stove top burner running 24 hours a day, every day, for all those years.

“The new TSX ultra-low freezer provides the same quality of operation, but is drastically energy efficient, as it consumes less than nine kilowatts,” he said. “In terms of savings, that’s 60 per cent reduction in power consumption – savings for the university and the environment.”

Kyle Pollard, Manager of Operations and Safety (Biochemistry), took the lead for 14 units that have already been installed in Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute labs. Some Western labs still have “various levels of vintages of freezers.”

“They owe us nothing and have done yeoman service for years. They have been running on borrowed time for a long time,” Pollard said. “The old style of freezers you might get 12-14 cubic feet of storage, but the new units, with modern insulation and vacuum packing, we’re able to jump to 24 to 28 (cubic feet), so we’re getting significant more capacity.”

Pollard added the extra capacity freezers also allows for even more back up space should a compressor on any of the older units go down.

“In the conversations we’ve had with the researchers they’re so glad to have them because they are such an essential part of life-science research,” he said.

Should additional funding become available, perhaps through a new energy-reduction government program, Western would look to replace the remaining fleet of the older units.