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GSK & University of Nottingham Carbon Neutral Laboratory

Challenge

Build a laboratory that encourages the practice of sustainable chemistry.

Problem

Discovering new medicines is a resource and carbon intensive activity. Considerable energy is used to prepare pure substances and protect workers from exposure. Disposing of some chemical substances presents a challenge due to the hazardous nature of the material, and large volumes of water are typically used for cooling.

The design, even of modern laboratories, can reinforce and embed poor practice as chemists work to tackle life-threatening disease as quickly as possible. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has committed to a long-term goal for company operations and the value chain to be carbon neutral by 2050. This target means there will be no net greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal of products and the sourcing of raw materials. Interim targets have been set for carbon footprint reduction of 10% by 2015 and 25% by 2020. GSK also has targets to reduce operational water consumption by 20% by 2015 and to reduce waste to landfill from operations by 25% by 2015, and to zero by 2020.

Solution

GSK and the University of Nottingham are collaborating to establish a Centre of Excellence for sustainable chemistry and to construct a Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry on the university’s Jubilee Campus.

Supported by a £12 million grant from GSK, the laboratory will focus on research that is of particular relevance to the pharmaceutical industry, and which complements established expertise at the University of Nottingham. It will also deliver advanced undergraduate teaching and outreach to the wider scientific community to embed sustainable chemistry principles in the next generation of scientists.

The building will incorporate the latest technologies to allow it to be carbon-neutral over its lifetime. The laboratory will be built from natural materials, and the energy required to run it will be met by renewable sources such as solar power and sustainable biofuel. Excess energy created by the building will provide enough carbon credits over 25 years to pay back the carbon used in its construction. Cooling water will be re-circulated and laboratories will be designed to encourage more sustainable practice.

Benefits

GSK estimates it can save £100 million per annum by 2020 through reduced energy, materials and distribution costs.
The laboratory planned for a 70% reduction in embodied carbon compared to a conventional new build
The laboratory captures wind for ventilation
The laboratory powers itself from the sun and sustainable biofuel
The laboratory collects rainwater, nurtures wildlife and merges with the natural landscape
The laboratory when not in use, becomes ‘dormant’, using the minimum amount of energy and storing heat
As the building becomes occupied and work begins, it ‘wakes up’ and starts to consume energy
The laboratory provides a focal point for forging strategic partnerships with other institutions and the UK pharmaceutical industry and create a global hub to attract post-doctoral and visiting researchers wishing to develop expertise in sustainable chemistry, supporting both the university’s and GSK’s commitment to develop international talent
Create a research culture for the 21st century chemist in which optimising sustainability is a key competence for all chemists and the understanding of new ways of working for minimum carbon impact are transferred back to into pharmaceutical research laboratories
Develop innovative synthetic routes for more sustainable chemistries and sustainable routes to key synthetic starting materials of high value to life sciences
Build greater awareness of the environmental impact of choice of solvent, reagents and procedures, and optimise the use of scarce resources such as metals in synthetic chemistry

Case study source

Gsk