Fundamental changes are occurring in not only the way scientific research is conducted but also innovations that will drive a very different approach to laboratory design in the new millennium.
It comes as no surprise that capital spending in the pharmaceutical industry is taking a back seat as pharma continues to try to merge facilities and fill pipelines.
However, academic capital spending and government investments related to research facilities have both been active and growing. Like pharma R&D spending, academia's focus is on lab optimisation.
One aspect in which special interest is being taken is laboratories' methods of air filtration. Previously seen as an essential aspect to the design of a lab, its importance has seen substantial amounts of money invested into expensive filtration and exhaust systems - often needlessly.
Laboratory design has wised up for the 21st century. In the new millennium it's not about spending more, it's about spending wisely. At this moment lab design has advanced enough, driven by improvements in lab ventilation and filtration systems.
Advanced filtration could eliminate the need for complex heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in many facilities, allowing clients to direct more money to greater square footage and/or better equipment.
However, one would expect all this to come at a price. For the moment this is true, since new technology and innovation is naturally untested, unproven and unliked to an extent. For the scientific community, an adequate filtration and exhaust system that does the job relatively cheaply will become a mainstay of the lab for many years to come.
One factor that must be taken into consideration is the need to develop media capable of safely filtering out chemical, biological and trace nuclear waste streams.
To maintain central manifold exhaust systems, one filter or a combination of filters must remove all hazards. Due to the high volume of air flowing over the filter, the cleaning or replacement of the filter system must be cost effective.
However, once a tested and approved filtration system is available, the money now being spent on 100 per cent outside air systems and their associated operations costs would then be available to support other needs.
To place a figure on future costs in lab ventilation and filtration is difficult. Like all future technology, it is a combination of popularity and initial cost-saving offerings that will be key in the development of laboratory design and implementation.
If effective and cost-efficient filtration systems can be developed, the need to design labs with 100 per cent outside air and 10 to 12 air changes/ hr could be eliminated. The cost of research facilities could then be reduced by $50 (€40) from $125 (€100) to $75 (€60)/square foot.
Within the industry, the general consensus is that its not so much the design of the ventilation and exhaust system that is the deciding factor. It is changes to energy requirements and consumption that will determine its success.
A typical laboratory currently uses five times as much energy and water per square foot as a typical office building. Research laboratories are so energy-demanding for a variety of reasons.
For example, laboratories contain large numbers of containment and exhaust devices. They also house a great deal of heat-generating equipment.
In addition, scientists require 24-hour access, and there is the concern that irreplaceable experiments require fail-safe redundant backup systems and uninterrupted power supply (UPS) or emergency power.
Research facilities have intensive ventilation requirements-including "once through" air-and must meet vigorous health and safety codes, which add to energy use. In addition, sustainable design of lab environments should also improve productivity.
Richard Beachem, managing director for US-based heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractors, Beachem Services, told DrugResearcher.com: "Areas of opportunity for reducing the power requirement of a laboratory's ventilation system, and thus cost, include: fan system efficiency, airflow and system pressure drop."
Electrical power requirements of the ventilation system are represented by the combined supply and exhaust fan power.
"For fan system efficiency, you're looking at a 5-15 per cent cost saving overall. I can foresee minor potential there though traditional design is often OK for most labs and so will often remain unmodified."
"With airflow, potential cost savings start to become more interesting. With a range of between 0-60 per cent savings wise, variable air volume.(VAV) supply and exhaust systems provide big savings in fan and conditioning energy when compared with constant-flow systems. Although to be fair, actual savings depend on facility usage."
Specifying low-pressure-drop design for a laboratory's ventilation system has great potential for energy savings. High-pressure drop results in a ventilation system with high power consumption. Pressure drop should be addressed throughout both sides-the supply and the exhaust.
"The system pressure drop typically offers the greatest potential for energy savings in the ventilation system," he said.
Despite the huge impact of the ventilation system on yearly energy consumption, it is not uncommon to see laboratory buildings with a supply and exhaust system combined total of 8 to 12 in. w.g. pressure drop."
Beachem added that the high-pressure drop directly results in a ventilation system with high power consumption.
Clearly the needs of the laboratory must be taken into consideration as one could not expect one lab design and thus exhaust system to be applicable to all labs. To optimise a laboratory's mechanical HVAC system, it is essential to recognize the building's unique aspects and operation. To ignore this would surely be foolhardy.
The point is cost savings are there to be taken, driven by the need to modernise and optimise the lab for the 21st century.
Critics will point to the initial costs, which will typically increase, because of such factors as the need for additional mechanical room space and larger duct shafts and plenums.
But Beachem commented: "These increases can be mitigated by the decreases in first costs resulting from the designers' subsequent ability to reduce the size of fans and motors, specify duct construction details (low vs. high pressure), and eliminate sound attenuators."
The air-handling systems of laboratories have become a big issue in lab design, changing the way laboratories are planned to reduce energy costs and efficiency.
An approach that will ensure a healthy building environment with efficient ventilation while at the same time optimising capital and long-term energy costs is the ideal to aspire to, breathing new life into laboratories entering the 21st century