Jeff Wang’s Lab Receives Award for Green Freezer Practices

Clear laboratory equipment with a black microscope at center. The three glass beakers flanking the microscope have green plants in them.

Efforts by Jeff Wang’s lab for better cold storage management has won them a $4,000 award from the Johns Hopkins Office of Sustainability. The office runs their own internal competition in conjunction with the annual International Freezer Challenge competition, where over 100 countries worldwide compete to save energy, improve cold storage methods, reduce risk, and help their respective institutions save money on energy bills.

Wang, the Louis M. Sardella Professor in mechanical engineering and INBT core researcher, and his lab team implemented eco-friendly processes to reduce energy consumption and related costs. Liben Chen, research scientist and laboratory captain in Wang’s lab, lead these management efforts for their five freezers that range from – 20°C to -80°C. They defrosted ice buildup, reorganized contents, and discarded old samples.

For their two -80°C freezers, the team got creative and orderly. With 30 people in the lab, time spent with the freezer open—to retrieve, return, and locate samples—adds up quickly. Every time the freezer opens the temperature decreases, thus freezers experience ice buildup and use large amounts of energy to maintain its temperature. To address this, the lab created a digital spreadsheet of the freezer’s internal layout. Lab members log the location of their samples, when it was placed in the freezer, and a photo. This has helped them account for every sample and spend less time with freezer doors open.

The award allocates funds to further support green initiatives such as replacing old fridges and freezers, upgrading and maintaining current freezers, and replacing high energy use equipment. Chen hopes to use the funds to purchase boxes and racks for better freezer organization and investigate more options to improve their – 20°C freezers.

“It was a great opportunity to get everyone in the lab involved and the award is an encouraging recognition of everyone’s efforts. I’ve even noticed other positive sustainable habit changes in the team such as turning off lights in the lab and office at the end of the day,” said Chen.

The lab team is still improving other freezer management practices as they are currently competing in the International Freezer Challenge hosted by My Green Lab and International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories, which runs from January through July. Not only that, the laboratory is working on their My Green Lab certification, which saves energy and cost through sustainable lab practices.

by Gina Wadas