Four years after completion in 2016 we have been taking the opportunity to review how well the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Sustainable Chemistry is working.  The building provides all of the functions required for the operation of the Universities Sustainable Chemistry department, so provides a good indication of the levels of efficiency that can be achieved in a chemistry laboratory building, albeit one containing scientists who are likely to have a personal interest in operating sustainably.  The building was designed and constructed to meet the highest standards of sustainability, with a target of achieving a net zero carbon status after 25 years of operation as well as LEED platinum and BREEAM Outstanding.  The opportunity to return to the building and review its operation is valuable both to identify where it can be improved but also to help guide how future efficient laboratories can be designed.

One main target for energy efficiency is ensuring the building is off and consuming as little energy as possible while it is not being actively being used.  In a typical month the laboratories are occupied about 33% of the time, but almost 50% of the energy consumed by the laboratory equipment in them is consumed when they are unoccupied.  An equivalent profile can be seen with the building services supporting them where 40% of the energy consumption occurs while the laboratories are unoccupied.  While this is better than business as usual, there is room for improvement.  We can improve the efficiency of the building services by adjusting the controls but are reliant on the users to improve how the laboratory equipment is used.

Water is also an important sustainability target.  Actual total consumption is only 20% of that estimated by standard design metrics and hot water consumption is less than 2% of standard design metrics.  This indicates that there are opportunities to reduce the size of these installed systems in the future with savings in capital costs, safety by increasing turnover of them and energy by reducing the steady state losses associated with keeping a large hot water system hot.  

In operation the building can give us hope for the future as its annual energy performance is roughly equivalent to the 70% reduction from business as usual identified as being required by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) as part of their 2030 Climate Challenge.  A review of the final construction cost shows that the building cost between 80% and 120% of the benchmark cost from other buildings providing equivalent facilities.  Overall this shows that we can achieve the energy performance we need to and that it doesn’t necessarily have to come at a premium.

Author: Matthew Butler, MEng (Hons), MA (Cantab), CEng MIMechE, Building Engineering, EMIA, Associate Director, AECOM