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Sustainable Design

Trending topics and case studies for architects, owners, and planners of tomorrow’s sustainable labs.


A3: Adaptive Reuse


Transformation for the Planet One Building at a Time

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With increasing focus on reducing the building industry’s contributions to global CO2 emissions, our design choices matter more than ever.  One of our biggest building-type opportunities to make a positive impact is in the design and renovation of existing buildings for life-science tenants.

As the demand for life science space increases across the country, these traditionally high energy-consuming facilities challenge our efforts to curb embodied and operational carbon. This challenge impacts both new construction and repositioning of life sciences office space. In an effort to meet leasing demand, more building owners and developers are converting standard office spaces to life science spaces. Typically spaces designed for office use do not outright provide the ready space to accommodate the new infrastructural, performative, and safety requirements and require some level of adaptation.

In this session, we will explore the approach of simultaneously converting four office buildings into life science spaces. The existing buildings are located on top of a former landfill and require minimal interruption to the slab to maintain the existing vapor barrier. Vibration-sensitive laboratory operations are strategically located in areas of the building that minimize the need for structural reinforcement. Development of global standards resulting in right-sizing of the mechanical and electrical systems and investment in high-efficiency equipment and smart building controls. 


Laboratory Renovations and Carbon Footprint

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Unrenovated laboratory buildings from the 1960s to 1980s no longer provide current functional, flexibility, talent recruitment and retention standards. This holds true for academic campus settings and private corporations. Limited swing space for ongoing operations and sometimes preservation considerations can prohibit a demolition and new build. Despite limiting existing conditions and budget considerations, we have found tremendous success navigating these issues on projects with strategies that allow the end users to thrive in fully updated lab environments.

New data and software tools also make it possible for project teams to analyze the impact of building reuse. Envelope analysis help improve energy performance so that new mechanical strategies can be implemented. Design teams can use new tools to calculate the carbon footprint of the existing building structure and envelope. 

Negotiating the challenges of a laboratory renovation project can serve as an opportunity for cross-collaboration, ultimately delivering the best solutions for our clients. In this presentation, the team will share case studies of past and current projects navigating this very subject. The intent is that lessons learned from these case studies can help inform future laboratory design, encouraging planners and owners to collaborate on adaptable state of the art renovation projects. 

A REtrospective of Adaptive RE-use Labs

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Adaptive reuse projects are a great sustainable way of utilizing existing (and often historic) buildings to reimagine spaces in a new light. They can be especially challenging when the desired result is a laboratory space. Our team has conquered numerous projects involving these challenges and delivered highly efficient and reimagined spaces that later house advanced research and development or production environments. BIM and 3D laser scanning are often utilized to help strip spaces down to their bare bones to support the design of new spaces. What tools can be developed to analyze the feasibility of reusing a building, and specifically which MEP systems contained within can be adapted to the new space use? How do we achieve embodied carbon goals that are often desired by the owners of these buildings? We will provide validated recent case studies to share best practices and proven results. 


B3: Adaptive Reuse


Design and Sustainability Strategies for Research and Development Facility Renovations and Adaptive Reuse

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Speed to market continues to be a key driver to scientifically based start-up companies and drug manufacturers. A notable challenge in addressing this issue is the shortage of suitable lab and production related space required to conduct studies on the therapeutics they are investigating. In addition, the demand to conserve natural resources through the incorporation of sustainability concepts continues to drive decisions of owners. To address this deficiency, R&D organizations continually seek acceptable, economically sound solutions. Many pharmaceutical companies consider securing space in existing buildings with the secondary goal of reducing costs and accelerating production. This approach is not without its challenges. Most available structures were not constructed to meet the programmatic demands of a drug development facility. Antiquated MEP equipment and building materials of older, existing buildings require creative solutions to incorporate energy conservation concepts. They are primarily speculative office buildings, with features that focus on immediate rate of return, rather than options for fit-out. Modifying existing structures is certainly a viable option in solving the available space problem, but it does come with a variety of risks that must be resolved prior to arriving at an acceptable solution. This presentation will focus on what those strategies might be, and the ways to minimize their impact on the planning and operation of the building


Unison Elliott Bay Project: Repurposing of Existing Office Buildings for Laboratory/Office Use 

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Unison Elliott Bay (Unison) is a reimagined three-building mixed-use campus offering more than 300,000 square feet of Class A office and life science lab space. Due to strong market demand for lab and R&D space, two of the buildings were repositioned into dedicated life science and lab space. The buildings are planned for LEED Gold, WELL and Fitwell certifications, and innovatively designed to integrate green features to enhance the well-being of its community and tenants. The RMR Group is making their mark in Seattle with its Zero Emissions Promise by targeting 50% reduction in both embodied and operational carbon in their portfolio by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. 

Over 85% of the buildings structure, enclosure and interior elements were retained, resulting in significant embodied carbon savings. Based on conservative estimates, retaining the existing building saves approximately 54,000 metric tons of CO2 compared to a new building. 

The core-and-shell design allows flexibility of program to serve office, laboratory, or amenity space on all floors. The HVAC and plumbing systems are fully decarbonized, and other results include:

  • 1.3 Million gal/yr of Indoor Water use (35.8% savings from baseline) 

  • 123.32 EUI (37.3% savings from baseline)

  • Interior materials and finishes that meet stringent VOC content and emission standards 

  • Over 75% of construction waste diverted from landfill

  • 172 long-term secure bike storage and 10 EV charging spaces


Adaptive Reuse: A Viable, Practical and Sustainable Solution to Meet Sky-Rocketing Demand for Lab Space

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The biotech revolution is booming, driving demand for life sciences R&D space off the charts. Lab space scarcity is propelling construction, but global supply interruptions have driven lead times for materials and equipment to double and even triple, challenging speed to market. At the same time, C-suites face mounting pressure to meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. This session will make the case for looking to adaptive reuse of existing building stock as a solution to all of these issues. By considering the existing infrastructure onsite and asking what we can reuse, our project’s owner, architect and contractor team saved dollars, shaved time off the construction schedule, and achieved an embodied carbon win. Additionally, the client had LEED aspirations that were initially challenged due to intense energy use of the labs. Reuse of large sections of the envelope, roof structure and flooring, plus salvage of furniture and lab equipment, allowed us to earn multiple Materials & Resources credits, offsetting the lack of points available in Optimized Energy Performance, in order to achieve certification.


C3: Structural Considerations


Structural Strategies for Decarbonization: Challenges and Opportunities for Laboratory Facilities

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The climate change crisis has shifted the conversation about sustainability from energy efficiency to net zero and the urgent need for decarbonization. As design teams and building owners consider the carbon footprint of new construction projects, embodied carbon has become a critical consideration. Structural systems are an important focus area, as lessons learned from lifecycle assessments conclude that they can contribute up to 80% of the embodied carbon of a new building.


On the other hand, laboratory buildings are a unique building type with specific structural performance requirements including modular column-free bay sizes, taller floor-to-floor heights, vibration criteria to support sensitive equipment, higher floor loading capacity and fire separation to accommodate hazardous material control areas. Design teams are faced with balancing the decarbonization goals without compromising building performance that impact scientific spaces.

In this presentation we will evaluate the challenges and opportunities of different structural systems, including traditional construction methods, as well as innovative solutions that have emerged in recent years, to give attendees the tools to make an informed decision as they select the structural system options that best fit the project goals of buildings designed to support scientific endeavors.


A Case Study on Predicting Footfall-Induced Vibration on a Slab Supported by Grade Beams and Micropiles


Specialized laboratory equipment often requires low-vibration environments for proper functionality. On elevated floors, occupant footfalls are often the most critical source of vibration as they can excite the resonant response of the floor or impart significant impulse forces that can exceed equipment vibration criteria. For this reason, it is often recommended that vibration-sensitive equipment be located on grade.


This presentation will highlight a case study from a sensitive facility construction project in which the vibration-sensitive equipment was originally planned to be located on grade. However, during the design phase it was discovered that the soil supporting the building was expected to settle significantly such that the soil would not be in contact with the slab. The design was altered to incorporate grade beams and micropiles to support the ground-floor slab. A finite element analysis was conducted to predict the footfall-induced vibrations in the unusual structure and onsite vibration measurements were conducted to validate the findings. The case highlights the significance of soil conditions when designing on-grade locations to be low vibration and the ability of footfall-induced vibration prediction methods to be adapted to unusual structure. 


You Put HOW MANY Tuned Mass Dampers in ONE Building? Minimizing the Carbon Footprint of Laboratory Buildings


In the pursuit of more sustainable construction practices, advanced materials and design techniques have led to lighter and more flexible structural systems in buildings.  These structural systems are unfortunately more susceptible to structural vibration generated from both internal and external sources. Tuned Mass Dampers (TMDs) are devices mounted in a structure that can oppose the motion of a floor which has been excited by occupant footfalls. They have been demonstrated to be effective either when considered during the design process, or in mitigation situations. They can minimize the environmental impact of the construction process through a saving in construction materials and their resulting CO2 emissions.

This presentation describes the case study of a 450,000 sf structure originally designed as an office building. As construction was beginning, a single pharmaceutical firm chose to lease the entire building, and required that more than half of the floor plate of each floor meet the strict vibration criterion commonly used for lab applications. As the building had been designed for typical office occupancy vibration criterion, major last-minute modifications would be required to stiffen the structure to meet the new criterion. Several options were explored, with the final solution incorporating a combination of stiffening of primary structural members, tying floor masses together using interstitial posts and installing 166 TMDs within the depth of the floor framing.


D3: Design Diversity


Feeding a Growing World With Sustainable Agriculture and Architecture at CSU Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building 


From the food we eat to the clothes we wear, agriculture is an essential science that needs strong innovators and entrepreneurs working together to meet the demands of our growing global population. 

Since its inception, Colorado State University (CSU) has always had strong ties to agricultural studies. The College of Agricultural Sciences’ home, the Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building, required a dynamic expansion and renovation to ensure it can further its mission and empower new generations of students.  

Sustainable design focused on decarbonization motivated the renovation of the 1938 original building with an addition in lieu of an all-new building. Many sustainable design strategies will lead to a LEED Gold-certified project that will celebrate Colorado State University’s vision for its students and faculty focused on sustainable agriculture, food security, a unique partnership with the industry, and state-of-the-art interdisciplinary learning and research environment. 

All classrooms and laboratories with daylight and views are designed with student success in mind. Flexible learning spaces can adapt to many inclusive teaching and learning styles and can also support remote learning. An addition on the south of the building includes a 160-seat, in-the-round auditorium along with a student-focused “mall” that creates “storefronts” to many key programmatic features.


Semiconductor and Electronics Research and Manufacturing Facilities Support Growth, Innovation and Efficiency


The recent focus and enthusiasm for American-led semiconductor, microchip and other advanced electronics/technology has led to advancements in research and manufacturing facilities. Moreover, post-pandemic-related supply chain issues have exacerbated the need for more companies and institutions in the United States to help lead the way. Between venture capital and federal funding (CHIPS Act, etc) there is an enormous amount of capital flooding the market for the advancements in research, production and other supporting markets. To support these advancements, facilities industry professionals need to be ready to design these spaces for short- and long-term viability. The high density of energy consumption in these facilities provide short, attractive payback periods for owners. This justifies creative thinking during planning, design and construction phases of a project to achieve long-term efficiency of the building. This presentation will discuss the challenges facing this industry, as well as creative ideas to help achieve environmental, energy and economic efficiency. 

A Sustainable Life Science Campus Case Study

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An integrated design approach to Edwards Lifesciences’ 10-acre headquarters expansion developed a high-performance campus designed to spark creativity, innovation and a healthier workforce. The latest addition to the industry-leading medical device manufacturer’s Irvine, California, headquarters is a 469,000-square-foot campus expansion that was designed around ambitious, clearly defined performance goals.  The campus includes a two-story entry pavilion, a three-story office/lab building, a two-story full-service dining facility and conference center, and a four-story office/lab building. The three buildings earned LEED Gold certification and met the American Institute of Architects 2030 Commitment threshold of a 70% predicted energy use reduction; the entry pavilion is net zero energy and earned LEED Platinum certification, the USGBC’s highest designation. The design purposely puts sustainability on display. The first project was a 1,200-stall parking structure, which included a 4,500-square-foot green wall that is among the largest of its kind in North America.  PV arrays provide essential shade canopies throughout the courtyards, and expressive roof overhangs are a daily reminder of the energy-saving strategies. High-efficiency mechanical systems and LED lighting minimize the campus expansion’s energy consumption. The landscape framework connecting the spaces includes a system of bioretention areas and modular wetlands that treat 100% of stormwater runoff. 


E3: Sustainable Design


Low Carbon Labs: Case Studies

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Laboratory building operational and embodied carbon are both significant, due to intensive structure, finishes, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. 

Recent projects are experimenting with designs uncommon to labs: heat pump-based MEP systems, electrification, cross-laminated timber structure, demountable partitions, casework options, etc. This presentation collects these case studies into a common framework for evaluating their carbon benefits. 

This presentation highlights case studies from recent projects from multiple architecture and engineering firms, demonstrating a growing movement toward low-carbon laboratories.


Designing an Academic Lab Building to Meet Campus Decarbonization Goals

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With decarbonization goals at the forefront, Academic Institutions are looking to phase out aging (fossil fuel powered) campus steam systems and replace with low-temperature hot water systems. This presentation explores design considerations for UC Berkeley's newest academic research (lab) building that will connect to the ‘campus of the future’. Considerations discussed include;

  • Advances in process steam generation technologies

  • Low temperature hot water heating considerations for ventilation driven spaces (example: chemistry labs)

  • Building level technologies that can leverage and work in sync with modern central plant technologies such as thermal energy storage, heat recovery chillers

  • Interim design considerations for campuses in transition.

  • Designing with modular systems in mind for future flexibility.


Implementing Wellness Design in Lab Office Spaces–A Case Study


The WELL building Standard identifies that their rating system “applies the science of how physical and social environments affect human health, well-being and performance.”  This mission is highly aligned with the goals of many research organizations.  This presentation will focus on a case study at [a confidential pharmaceutical research and development] campus to illustrate some key challenges and opportunities. [Awaiting final approval to share client's name]


WELL includes three main types of strategies – design, operational, and owner policy. We will highlight the intricacies of applying design strategies for lab spaces in particular, which originated to accommodate the science, not necessarily the scientist. This characteristic can at times be advantageous in achieving WELL requirements (example: air quality) and at times can present challenges (example: thermal comfort). 


We will also touch on the advantages of WELL at Scale – a method for applying WELL across an organization rather than a single building. And finally, we will briefly discuss the advantages of certifying for LEED concurrently, as this provides many beneficial alignments and equivalencies.


F3: Lab Planning for Sustainability


Redefining Where We Work 

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How has the pandemic changed the world we work in, and what can we do about it? Because of the global pandemic, we have seen a substantial increase in the global population working remotely. This has led to many businesses downsizing or eliminating their office spaces, leaving office buildings perpetually vacant. At the same time, multiple industries, including research facilities, are responding to a growing market demand and need to quickly expand their business while providing workplace amenities to attract and retain talented staff. With the growing need for more research space and the growing vacancy of office buildings, we can leverage this opportunity to design first-class research facilities in former office spaces. However, what are the challenges that come with taking an office building and turning it into a laboratory? The building systems in an office building are not always optimized for a laboratory, so we will discuss how we can design a safe, efficient, and flexible laboratory within the predetermined constraints of an office building and the outcomes of redefining where we work.   


Lab Planning Through the Eyes of an Engineer 

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Lab planning presents unique challenges and considerations. Involving engineers from the beginning can help mitigate these challenges and ensure that the lab works efficiently and safely. In this session, seasoned engineers will talk through how they work hand-in-hand with laboratory planners to identify key questions to ask in user group meetings. They will provide examples of their favorite detailed answers to scope questions and showcase some elegant solutions. They will discuss standard best practices, lessons learned, and the importance of properly identifying lab equipment utility needs, all through the lens of collaboration and delivering a safe and effective space.


The Challenge of Designing a Lab with New Energy Code Requirements


Abstract coming soon.


G3: Net Zero Design


Transparency and Teamwork in Global Green Goals: A Million-Square-Foot Case Study

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By nature, large-scale manufacturing facilities are energy-, water-, and resource-intensive facilities. Transforming raw inputs into sterile medications is the driver of this input intensity. This presentation explains the challenges and opportunities of large-scale projects to implement design and operational policies that are net zero water, net zero waste, and net zero and carbon neutral energy use. This presentation details potential high-level corporate sustainability metrics, and propose a continual-improvement roadmap to lead to goal achievement.


ISO 14001 and ISO 14040 sustainability standards incorporate "stairstep" strategies to meet sustainability goals. The presentation will address how a client’s well-considered transparency on these goals helps the design team to best assist the local owners in reaching those goals. The case study will detail instances where the design team, including the construction management team, can work with the owner to suggest solutions that met design goals and owner goals. Architects, engineers, construction managers, and key stakeholders are working iteratively to creatively meet the sustainability criteria for large-scale projects. 


Delivering Net Zero Energy and Carbon in a Core-and-Shell Laboratory Development  Ahead of Tenant Specific Requirements

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As the UN releases its updated 2023 Climate report once again sounding the claxons that the world must take decisive environmental action to mitigate dire, impending consequences, the demand from consumers, corporations and their employees to push the envelopes of sustainability has never been higher. In response, research companies are targeting a variety of specific, sustainable development initiatives. But what do companies and developers do to maximize the sustainability potential when planning a new facility ahead of knowing what laboratory functions or tenants will be included? The developer and designers of the Ridgeway Science and Technology building are seeking to answer this quandary with their latest, state-of-the-art science building in Boulder, Colorado. This core-and-shell structure addresses how to combine the detailed requirements for net zero energy, net zero carbon, LEED Platinum design and advanced wellness initiatives, along with the flexibility to attract and host a number of very different laboratory tenants.

Occupants Are the Most Valuable Form of Carbon in the Building

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This session will cover numerous aspects of sustainable laboratories, including the road to decarbonization, but will be primarily focused on how valuable it is to provide an environment conducive to occupant comfort, health, wellbeing and productivity.  The speakers in this session will bring their individual expertise on these topics to the discussion, but also share experience working on sustainability and wellness goals for the Merck Laboratory project in South San Francisco. This project will serve as a case study for numerous examples of strategies that can be implemented in laboratory projects. The Merck project has earned numerous building certifications including LEED CS Gold, LEED CI Gold, WELL Core and Shell Silver, WELL New and Existing Interiors Silver, Fitwel Two-Star, LEED Zero Energy, and LEED Zero Carbon.


H3: Sustainable Design


Sustainable Trends Influencing Laboratory Design 


Developing a sustainable future requires participation from all parties. Research laboratories are among the most resource-intensive spaces in the world, necessitating energy-intensive equipment, 24-hour operations, 100% outside air requirements, and high airflow rates. Therefore, it is crucial for research laboratories to adopt sustainable practices and technologies. According to a study conducted by My Green Lab in collaboration with ICE, more companies in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries are adopting zero-carbon goals than ever before. Sustainable laboratory design trends and research best practices are assisting science in its pursuit of a zero-carbon future. This presentation will cover a list of trends intended to provide lab architects and laboratory design teams with actionable strategies for bringing about meaningful change. 

The key sustainable trends influencing lab design include:

  • Knowing the Research Specimen

  • Hazardous Chemical Use Has Reduced

  • Specify ULT Freezer Selection to Meet Corporate Goals

  • Measure the Right Metrics to Avoid "Greenwashing"

  • Don’t Get Hung Up on Outlets

  • New Policies Ensure Capital for Change

  • Lab Digitalization

  • Hybrid Working Environments

  • Material and Process Innovation Will Create Greener Buildings

  • Laboratory Best Practices Reduce Waste


Pushing the Envelope: Optimizing Lab Energy Use by Redefining Inside, Outside and Everything in Between 

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This presentation explores the design and performance of a new laboratory building for UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency, which implements active and passive design strategies to optimize energy efficiency and maintain comfort. A holistic approach toward massing, programming, occupant education, and façade design allows much of the building’s collaboration, office and educational spaces to rely solely on natural ventilation for cooling and life safety. This innovative approach resulted from thoughtful and iterative model-based exploration of massing and system configurations with a willingness to question fundamental assumptions about laboratory use, occupancy, and comfort. This presentation will examine the modeling and benchmarking approach and outline strategies laboratory/office hybrid buildings can use to achieve similar results. Data from ongoing post-occupancy evaluation will highlight the effectiveness of the design while generating lessons learned for building operations.


Whole building energy and environmental data were collected through the BMS to further optimize building operations and identify further potential for providing feedback. A common challenge with BMS data is coarse resolution, such as whole building energy meters, which limits insights into performance. The team explored statistical and machine learning applications to help decipher whole building hourly data into more meaningful associations between design, operations, and performance.

Sustainability vs. Resilience in Laboratory Design

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As we move towards a sustainable future in an attempt to reduce the impacts of climate change, we cannot help but understand that we are already seeing the impacts of climate change all around us. We are seeing higher flood zones, regular fire seasons, extreme heat events and we are often missing simple strategies to limit the impact of these events on our highly critical facilities. In addition to this, we need to understand how design decisions that we make to reduce our carbon impacts, can have impacts on operational maintenance and operational resilience so that our clients can make informed decisions. 

This presentation will explore some examples that we have worked on recently involving considerations for resiliency that question the new normal in how we should design laboratory facilities. Some of these include: flood mitigation strategies, rewriting outdoor air design conditions, and outdoor air quality mitigation solutions. In addition, this presentation will highlight how carbon reduction strategies have impacted the operational and resilience of central heating and cooling plants. We will consider how heat pump technology impacts carbon reduction, increased operational effort, possible reduced equipment life cycle, and reductions in operational resilience of facilities. Ultimately, attendees will understand how resilience and efficiency need to be considered together.


I3: Carbon Neutral Design


An All-Electric Biotech Manufacturing Facility Year-in-Review

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The biotech and pharmaceutical industry continues to push the envelope with respect towards energy and sustainability. These metrics include ESG reporting, talent attraction, reduced capital and operating costs, with overall environmental stewardship towards finite resource consumption.  To achieve decarbonization, we must implement the most equitable long-term strategies while applying the best design and construction practices. In this presentation, we will share how, following the energy + sustainability charrette, we created a four-step process to achieve a zero carbon, zero water central plant, and increased resiliency for a biotechnology manufacturing facility focused on developing therapies and cures with minimal environmental impact.  Having now been in operation for over a year, we will compare modeled data versus actual data, and discuss differences, lessons learned, and recommendations for continuous improvement.    


Challenging the Status Quo: A Total Carbon Approach to Labs

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Several approaches to designing a net zero laboratory have been developed to mitigate the staggering energy use of this building type. The carbon intensity that is inherent in labs presents designers with a unique challenge. These highly complex facilities demand far greater ventilation than most building types and use energy-intensive equipment that is often in operation 24 hours a day.

Labs also need robust structural systems to limit building vibration and support heavy imposed loads. Structural systems, typically made up of concrete and steel, contain high quantities of embodied carbon, and cause a real problem to the goals of carbon neutrality.


In this presentation, DLR Group’s Science + Technology leadership will analyze tried and true methods that drive labs towards net zero and will challenge the status quo of sustainable laboratory design to look at leading edge opportunities that should be considered to transform how laboratories perform to meet the energy use and embodied carbon challenges facing the world.

The Transition from ZNE to ZNC to Lifetime Carbon Neutrality

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As efforts to decarbonize the built environment ramp up globally, electrification of systems that provide services to buildings and that have been traditionally fueled by natural gas and other fossil fuels is a large focus.  The systems getting the most focus include space heating and domestic hot water heating.  Heat pumps have been the primary technology that is promoted to address these electrification challenges.  We will discuss strategies for applying heat pump systems in ANY climate, and the system configurations that are available to ensure proper and reasonably efficient operations at any ambient temperature.  These configurations will be based on real world examples and applications that have proven their efficacy, take advantage of readily available refrigeration technology, and that are conventional around the world.

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