COP26 has reinforced how catastrophic world climate change has to be addressed by all sectors. With reports at the conference stating that life sciences contribute more CO2 emissions than even the semiconductor industry, this especially applies to cleanrooms and their management. Jamie Young from EECO2 explains
The recently concluded COP26 has (re-)highlighted the urgent need for change, but by setting targets in distant decades, world leaders are procrastinating on the largest issue of our generation.
As the gates of the SEC in Glasgow first opened to the public for COP26, there was an overall sense of optimism amongst delegates that this year's conference would lead to more ambitious sustainability targets, with the aim of truly delivering the 1.5 degree future that was promised back in 2015 at COP21. Six years on from Paris and UNEP's Emissions Gap Report indicates that current net zero objectives will deliver a damaging 2.2°C rise by the end of the 21st century, well above the initial pledge.
However, there are some positives to take from the latest COP, over 40 countries have agreed to move away from the single largest climate change contributor, coal.
Just 4% of life science organisations have commitments to provide a 1.5°C future
On top of this, more than 100 governments have made a concerted effort to tackle deforestation, committing £14bn to reverse the damage done to woodland areas. And, from a private industry standpoint, the development of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has led to 2000+ businesses embarking on a clearly defined pathway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, aligned with the Paris Agreement.
The burden of creating a sustainable future cannot fall solely at the feet of world governments. In the life science sector, greater ambition is needed to drive a net zero future. A recent study by My Green Labs emphasised the importance of action, claiming the pharmaceutical and biotech industry is responsible for greater CO2 emissions than other traditional high emission sectors including semiconductor manufacturing. Perhaps most critically for the life sciences, the same report noted that just 4% of organisations within the industry are aligned to commitments that will provide a 1.5°C future.
In spite of this, there are some signs of improvement, AstraZeneca has successfully announced its alignment with the SBTi, becoming one of the first companies to aim for a 100% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2025, paving the way for fellow organisations to follow.
The opportunity to decarbonise within heat systems is often missed
With so much focus on what the targets should be and when they should be delivered, there is often too little consideration given to how these goals can be authentically realised. In the energy intensive world of cleanrooms, there are several challenges and opportunities for reducing energy expenditure.
So great is the energy consumption of cleanrooms that they have been observed to consume 25.3 times greater energy than non-classified spaces of comparative scale.
This in some capacity can be explained by how cleanrooms are typically designed, constructed, commissioned, and qualified.
By continuing to design, operate and commission cleanrooms for 'worst case' scenarios, opportunities to reduce energy usage will remain untapped.
Within the cleanroom system, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) is one of the principal energy users, drawing up to 70% of a site's energy consumption.
The resulting opportunity for energy and carbon reduction is therefore massive, no more so is this illustrated than through air change rate reduction. Relatively small decreases in airflow can deliver significant results, for instance, a 10% reduction in airflow can amount to a 28% decrease in fan power consumption.
This notable downturn in energy usage is even more substantial when the economic landscape of cleanroom operation is considered, with a review of European cleanroom costs suggesting that 65-75% of cleanroom ongoing expenditure results from energy utilisation, energy and carbon savings in this area will not only assist with achieving sustainability targets but budget and operational goals as well.
However, the methods of reducing energy expenditure in HVAC systems are not solely limited to air change rate reduction.
By dehumidifying only the outside air and combining it with return air, it has been noted that energy consumption decreases by ≈40% in cooling and up to 100% in reheating processes. As the air volume is the same within the system, there is no overall impact on pressurisation.
When considering decarbonising opportunities, energy expenditure of heat consumption must be understood, as HVAC and water for injection (WFI) are major heat users on-site. The importing of renewably sourced electricity is one avenue of decreasing carbon footprint, but is only successful in decarbonising if the heat is generated via electrification as opposed to the burning of natural gas.
Often, the opportunity to decarbonise within heat systems is missed because of the relatively low cost of natural gas, however as COP26 is highlighting, an increased emphasis is being placed on ditching fossil fuels in favour of cleaner alternatives. As legislation begins to reflect this change, the long-term consequences of burning natural gas will not just be felt environmentally, but economically.
In WFI, there are alternative methods of reducing energy usage, namely by cutting down on heat utilised in sterilisation. Using ozone sanitisation in water, it is possible to avoid much of the heat generation in WFI as energy is no longer consumed maintaining tank and loop temperature over 65°C. The demand for WFI is typically within ambient temperatures, therefore the overall impact of employing ozone sterilisation in WFI is limited.
One of the most challenging aspects of target setting, whether that is setting global goals at COP26 or developing cleanroom efficiency objectives, is predicting the innovations that will one day shape future energy consumption.
Within controlled environments, the implementation of contamination detection methods has allowed for the development of dynamic cleanroom control systems. By utilising risk-based control, dynamically controlled cleanrooms can observe significant reductions in operational cost and carbon impact, whilst assuring quality and improving compliance.
Future sustainability conferences cannot replace concrete strategies
To avoid the stark scenarios listed in August's IPCC report, COP26 and indeed future sustainability conferences cannot be a replacement for enacting concrete strategies to tackle climate change. The environmental cost of inaction is far higher than the comparatively low expense of improving energy efficiency and engaging in both short and long-term projects to achieve a greener future. But while the various methods of delivering energy efficiency in cleanrooms are up for debate, on the issue of climate change, the life science industry must not procrastinate.
In November 2021, ten global pharmaceutical companies collaborated to fund the creation of the Energize programme. This programme is a sector-wide initiative designed to help accelerate renewable energy adoption through education and functional support on taking action against climate change. Already signed onto the initiative being designed by Schneider Electric are AstraZeneca, Biogen, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, MSD, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Sanofi and Takeda. If these major players can show and share their knowledge on how to overcome the hurdles of renewable energy, hopefully this can lead to systemic change. Targets won't save the planet, actions will.