Opinion: Pharmaceutical energy use and opportunities

Published: 18-Feb-2020

Nigel Lenegan believes our industry can only deliver its promise to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions by including airflow reduction in its plans

As we progress in 2020, energy and CO2 reduction targets set by pharmaceutical companies 10-15 years ago approach maturity. This commitment coincides with refreshed corporate social responsibility (CSR) statements from manufacturers and expectations from wider social communities aligned to global warming and climate change.

It seems to me the pressure to be environmentally friendly, support the fight against global warming and save money is why most major pharmaceutical companies’ websites now promote their sustainability credentials1. An article in the Financial Times by Sarah Neville2 has also identified this situation with quotes from senior environmental leads in AstraZeneca and Novartis on this issue.

Pharmaceutical companies develop and manufacture medicines that improve people's lives and wellbeing. These medicines, however, are produced in facilities that use a great deal of energy and emit significant amounts of CO2.

My work on energy optimisation and CO2 emissions with UK pharmaceutical companies has identified areas of significant wasted energy in qualified and validated GMP environments. This waste can be reduced using quality assured scientific approach, and still yield financial savings.

Sector-specific research on carbon reduction

The pressures on the global pharmaceutical industry to reduce emissions and provide long-term reduction targets are linked to legally binding international treaties on climate change mitigation such as the 2016 Paris Climate Change3 agreement.

Nigel Lenegan

Nigel Lenegan

Worth noting these initiatives must consider which global warming flight-path to choose. The warmer the climate, the more energy the sector uses, and the greater the impact on energy reduction demand to meet these targets.

"To meet the 2016 Climate Change agreement, the overall pharmaceutical sector would have to reduce its emissions intensity by about 59% from 2015 levels," author Ian Randall has written4. In my view, the sector needs to achieve even greater reductions to meet their corporate targets, mitigate increased demand, and plot a path towards carbon neutrality.

A report by ICF Consulting for the European Commission Directorate-General Energy5 suggested that from a 2011 baseline, energy use would increase 22% by 2025 and 60% by 2050. It also noted an energy split of roughly 60:40 between heat and power.

Even though the pharma sector has been successful in reducing energy and emissions, further challenges lay ahead to meet internal corporate commitments and international agreements, while also mitigating energy increases associated with increasing production demands.

My work using data published by the Office of National Statistics6 suggests that if the 59% reduction identified by Randall was realised by demand-side energy optimisation, this would yield annual savings of €2 billion as of 2020. But a further reduction would be required to compensate for European Commission estimates of 22% (2025) and 60% (2050) increase of production-driven energy costs.

Energy optimisation opportunities

A significant proportion of energy use (heat and power) and carbon emissions are directly associated with manufacturing facilities and its HVAC system. Improvements made up to 2015 have somewhat addressed the quick wins typically found in utility systems (inverter drives, lighting conversion to LED, direct-drive fans, and pumps and pressure reduction in compressed air systems) leaving the more challenging areas of waste yet to be optimised: electrical energy used to deliver excess airflow within classified cleanrooms.

It is likely that 2020-2025 energy and emissions targets will force optimisation of cleanroom airflow in GMP environments. Talking with energy managers and engineering leads in these companies, it is obvious they are fully aware of the energy optimisation opportunities here. In my experience, energy optimisation projects are often blocked due to concerns from production, quality and validation departments on the potential impact of HVAC changes on the qualified state of the facility and potential re-qualification.

The financial business case for cleanroom energy optimisation is very strong and some companies boast 30-50% reduction in HVAC energy costs due to airflow reduction while maintaining GMP compliance.

The industry can only deliver its promise to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions by including airflow reduction in its plans, which in turn will drive the need to develop and prove a quality assured scientific approach to cleanroom airflow design and optimisation. Some companies have already proven this approach works without affecting risk to the patient or product quality while achieving significant energy savings, typically with a 1-2-year payback.

About the author

Nigel D Lenegan serves as Global Chair – ISPE Sustainable Facilities and Controlled Environments CoP


  1. Aztrazeneca; Pfizer; Sanofi.
  2. NEVILLE, Sarah, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, “Pharma finds its feet in fight against climate change”. Financial Times [ONLINE]. January 2019 [viewed July 2019].
  3. 2016 Climate Chante Paris Agreement
  4. RANDALL, Ian, “Big Pharma companies create 13% more carbon emissions than CAR MAKERS, experts warn”. MAILONLINE. 29th May 2019 [viewed July 2019].
  5. Study on Energy Efficiency and Energy Saving Potential in industry from possible Policy Mechanisms: European Commission [ONLINE] February 2018 [viewed July 2019].
  6. Energy Consumption in the UK (ECUK) 1970 to 2018: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [ONLINE] July 2019 [viewed July 2019].

You may also like