CO2, Lab Innovations, Labs, R&D, Sustainability

The Road to Net Zero Starts in the Lab: SciMed

Press release from LAB Innovations:

Research labs are complicated environments and it is not always clear what can
be done to improve sustainability.

To date, most of the discussion around sustainability has focussed on the energy efficiency of instruments and equipment, such as fume hoods and cryogenic freezers.
While this is important, it means that things like chemical and solvent selection are overlooked.

Laboratories can update
experimental methods and solvent selection to be more sustainable without harming results, according to Paul Vanden Branden, Director at SciMed, an exhibitor at Lab Innovations 2023 and member of the show’s advisory board.

Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue of our time, with many scientists warning that, if significant progress is not made towards becoming a more sustainable society, damage to the planet
will become irreversible. The UK Government has committed in legislation to achieve net-zero
carbon emissions by 2050, but this is unlikely to happen unless there are substantial changes across industrial sectors such as the lab industry.

University College London’s sustainability report for 2021 reported that roughly half of the university’s emissions came from its laboratories. The findings of this report, and others like it, indicate that laboratories must do more. Ultimately, this means the lab industry will significantly
impact the likelihood of meeting the net-zero by 2050 goal. Therefore, laboratories must address problems such energy consumption as well as chemical and solvent selection.

Switching to green solvents
Organic solvents, such as hexane, are commonly used in various chemical processes, such as separations and extractions, but are quite environmentally harmful. Therefore, a key goal for the
lab industry is to reduce their use in favour of green solvent alternatives.

Hexane is widely used for extracting oil contaminants from water and soil for analysis and for extracting edible oils from seeds and vegetables because of its efficiency in these experiments, which could not traditionally be matched by alternatives. However, supercritical CO2 systems now
allow comparable results to be achieved without using such a harmful chemical.

For example, supercritical CO 2 is non-flammable, non-toxic, not environmentally harmful, easy to prepare and does not contribute to global warming because any process CO 2 is recycled back into the system. Supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) is an area of growing interest and CO 2 is the most
common supercritical fluid used in SFE procedures as a replacement for traditional hexane use.

SFE is performed by pumping supercritical CO 2 through a fixed bed of substrate where the CO 2 flows
through the substrate and dissolves soluble components until they are depleted. The loaded solvent
is then passed through a separator where the soluble components are precipitated by adjusting the
temperature and pressure before the CO 2 is condensed and recirculated.

By controlling the density of supercritical CO 2 fluids, they can replicate the performance of various
organic solvents whose polarities range from n-pentane, at the lowest density, to pyridine, at the
highest. This feature allows selective extraction, purification and fractionation procedures to be

This just one of many examples of ways the lab industry can improve chemical and solvent selection
in experimentation to improve sustainability without negatively impacting results. At this year’s Lab
Innovations, visitors will be able to see many of these methods first hand and speak to the
industry’s leading experts about how they can improve sustainability in their labs.

The Sustainable Laboratory will return to Lab Innovations in 2023, hosted by Andy Evans, director of
Green Light Laboratories, and offer insight into ways labs can become more sustainable and share
some data-driven case studies. Furthermore, the show will once again host the sustainability trail,
which was new to Lab Innovations in 2022, to give visitors a guided tour of some of the key
exhibitors making a positive impact on lab sustainability.

As the largest Lab Innovations exhibition yet, 2023’s show is set to be a must-attend event for the
whole lab industry. To attend Lab Innovations 2023, taking place on November 1 and 2 at the NEC,
Birmingham, visit the show’s website and register for this year’s show . And to find out more about
sustainable lab practices, visit SciMed on stand E70 at the show.

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