UIC labs compete in International Freezer Challenge

The Amynah Pradhan Lab won the challenge at UIC.

In January 2021, nonprofit organizations International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories and My Green Lab have partnered together for the fifth year in a row to run the 2021 International Laboratory Freezer Challenge, a cold storage competition for laboratories.

Because labs are one of the most energy-intensive workplaces, due to the heavy-duty equipment, the airflow requirements of the space, and the around-the-clock operations, the annual Freezer Challenge encourages researchers to take energy conscious actions with their cold storage systems. By taking simple house-keeping steps, such as defrosting freezers, dusting freezer’s intake coil, and discarding old samples, research labs are able to conserve energy and compete against other research institutions. Through the competition, institutions and organizations will come up with practices to optimize sustainability of freezer management in laboratories and implement efficient and effective sample storage.

The Freezer Challenge was originally envisioned by laboratory sustainability innovator Allen Doyle at the University of California Davis. Then, Doyle and his colleague, Kathryn Ramirez-Aguilar, from the University of Colorado Boulder, developed the first Freezer Challenge competition that was run at their campuses. After a few local runs, Doyle and Ramirez-Aguilar passed the project on to I2SL and My Green Lab to coordinate it on a wider scale. The competition was then held as the North American Freezer Challenge and now as the International Laboratory Freezer Challenge.

This year, 222 laboratories representing 113 different research institutes around the world completed the competition, resulting in a combined of approximately 4.3 million kWh/year of energy saved. This statistic is a leap from 3.2 million kWh/year in 2020 and is an equivalent of 3,000 metric tons per year of carbon emission reduction.

For the 2021 Freezer Challenge, eight labs from UIC participated and saved a collective of 94kWh/day over a period of six months. This year’s Freezer Challenge winner from UIC is the Amynah Pradhan Lab with the highest energy saving rate of 22 kWh per day.

Let’s get to know the lab:

  1. Has the lab participated in the challenge before? The lab has participated in the freezer challenge for at least three years now. The first time I think we were a runner-up.
  1. What methods/policies did the lab take up to save energy? We are careful to get in and out of the freezers as quickly as possible and do a yearly cleanout.
  1. What does the lab think of the Freezer Challenge and its benefits for the environment as the winner of the challenge? It feels great to win but mostly to know that our lab is contributing to a better environment. I think it is great to raise awareness through the freezer challenge so that labs can be careful with how much energy they are consuming.
  1. Any tips/tricks the lab would like to share with future participants? Our -80 freezer is relatively new, so I would advise replacing super old units with newer ones that are better for the environment. And to just be aware of how much the freezers are hanging open and try to minimize that time.

Cynthia Klein-Banai, assistant vice chancellor and director of sustainability, believes that the competition creates a beneficial ground for universities and organizations to form sustainable habits in research practices. The competition also creates lifelong sustainability legacies that participants will bring to their future workplaces, which will reap rewards far greater than any immediate kilowatt hour savings reported from the challenge.

Lisa Sanzenbacher, assistant director of sustainability, said the program is one of the most effective programs of achieving the UIC CAIP solution 1.2.2 Energy Conscious Campus’ goal. Laboratories have a direct impact on energy savings at UIC, so it is such great news that they are interested in energy efficiency.

If you or a lab you know is interested in the competition, next year’s International Freezer Challenge will begin in January 2022. You can learn more about the 2021 International Freezer Challenge winners and get notified about the 2022 Freezer Challenge.

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