Opinion: ACRs – Time for change?

Cleanrooms and labs are expensive to run in an age when energy efficiency has become a key issue

Susan Birks
Deputy Editor

Whether you work in a cleanroom, pharmaceutical lab, university lab, or any other building that requires a controlled environment, energy efficiency has become a key issue.

Cleanrooms and labs are expensive to run and some 50–80% of the operating costs can be ascribed to HVAC systems. Air quality, temperature and humidity are among the key parameters for such environments. Purifying, heating and cooling these environments all require huge amounts of air to be pushed though the HVAC system at great cost.

At this year’s Effective Laboratory conference, some 300 delegates heard presentations on how to reduce energy usage. They included examples from organisations that have measured, monitored and reassessed the air change rates (ACR) they require in specific labs to carry out experiments successfully yet maintain the highest levels of human and animal safety.

It appears the current guidance limits set out in international standards are often upped by institutions as a ‘belt and braces’ safety policy and, once set, they are rarely checked or reviewed – even though occupancy and equipment load levels may have changed over the years. These widely used high ACRs have now become broadly ‘expected’ by regulatory inspectors.

The same problem exists in the cleanroom sector, but a new British energy efficiency standard (BS 8568) will help cleanroom users take practical steps towards energy saving. Here too the experts believe it is time to challenge some ‘widely adopted’ guidance limits in the ISO 14644 suite of cleanroom standards.

Winning over regulators is the hardest step as they rightly want good evidence.