Energy efficiency is a core driver of R&D
facility advances. There have been many
recent advances in energy-efficient equipment
and operations solutions for research facilities,
such as room-temperature storage, chilled
beams and lab sensors.
Freezer storage is evolving to more energy-efficient solutions. Room-temperature
storage can save a significant amount of
money for storing most DNA and RNA samples. Now there’s an equipment list on NIH’s
Website that identifies the most energy-efficient models for most lab equipment, similar
to the Energy Star designations for appliances
and homebuilding products.
Chilled beams are a common way to heat
and cool spaces in lieu of air systems. They
require less space, cost less to construct and
operate and are very comfortable because the
air is heated or cooled across the spaces at a
Sensors to manage operations and safety
in labs are increasingly common and will
become more significant in the next few years.
Information on rooms about air change rates,
lighting and security cameras can be accessed
on smartphones. Five years ago, building
design was evolving to reduce energy through
larger-scale building automation systems.
Now, the sensors are affordable and often
deliver a quick payback.
As organizations manage their own spaces,
energy costs for operating research buildings
are expected to drop even further. Energy
costs drop faster where cost savings are given
back to individual research teams. Owners are
now monitoring energy performance to see
how well their new technologies are perform-
ing and how well their end-users are operating
the buildings. In many cases, the energy saved
is less than what was
modeled by computer, as
end-users run their spac-
es too hot in the winter
and too cold in the sum-
mer. Many also neglect
to set back thermostats in
the evening and on week-
ends. Human behavior
still needs to improve to
save on energy costs in
very expensive research
The NIH PNRC II
project is an example of
utilizing these advanc-
es in energy efficiency.
The facility is one of the
first to address President
Obama’s federal initiative
for more energy-efficient
buildings, and it offers insights into the latest
and best technologies for reducing energy use.
AN EVOLUTION FOR EQUIPMENT
Researchers expect and need the best
equipment available to enable them to do
their research more effectively and to save
time and money. Most equipment is getting
smaller and more sophisticated with higher
levels of 3-D models and very detailed images
at small scales. To be competitive in attracting
and retaining researchers, institutions are
pressured to buy the best equipment available.
To address the cost of the very expensive and
effective equipment, institutions have focused
on creating core labs and innovation centers.
The core labs are typically equipment-driv-en labs run by a campus-wide group that’s
accessible to research teams for scheduled
periods of time.
Innovation centers are usually spaces designated for faculty, students and private industry
to collaborate together. The collaboration
between students and private industry in these
spaces help train the students in workforce
environments to become more marketable
after graduation. The collaboration between
faculty and private industry provides a
much-needed opportunity for faculty to work
alongside real-world experts as they advance
their research idea to market, as well as an
opportunity for private financial support. The
innovation centers are designed with flexibility and creativity in mind, and they are a key
part to an institution’s brand.
NEW SOURCES OF FUNDING
Getting research funding in the U.S. has
historically involved the federal government,
with NIH serving as the key agency funding
much academic work. However, NIH funding
has dropped over the last five years; and it
doesn’t appear that any additional funding
will emerge for at least the next three to five
years. Moreover, the amount of funding
provided with each grant has decreased, and
recent grants tend to cover a shorter duration.
This U.S. dynamic has created an opportu-
nity for developing countries to fund and draw
top researchers to their scientific programs.
Singapore has excelled in this over the last 10
years. The Chinese government has offered
new work opportunities to Chinese-born
researchers who are practicing outside China;
and some have moved back, drawn in part by
wages equivalent to what they are receiving
in the U.S. or Europe. With the exchange rate
almost six times higher in China than in the
U.S., the western salaries are very appealing
to many Chinese researchers. Countries in
the Middle East are also spending significant
amounts of money on research, and some have
truly state-of-the-art research facilities with
excellent equipment and amenities available.
Now they’re making offers to people from
many nations to come work in their countries,
using as lures good financial packages guar-
anteed to last five to 10 years with no need to
apply for a grant each year.
As such, U.S. researchers are forced to
seek additional and more creative sources of
funding. Researchers often seek grants from
non-traditional sources, such as non-profits
like the Gates Foundation. This can also often
mean innovative public-private partnerships.
In fact, the NIH even has a Public-Private
Partnership Program to facilitate partnerships between the NIH and other partners
such as pharmaceutical and medical companies, non-profit organizations and advocacy
On the other hand, some institutions are
getting more creative with their funding. Some
academic institutions are challenging researchers to reduce operational costs within the building. They then return these costs savings to the
researchers in the form of research funding or
the ability to purchase new lab equipment. This
can add up to significant amounts as the operating costs of buildings can be approximately
12 to 15% of the annual budget, with opportunities to cut that cost 25 to 50% in most of
today’s facilities. Researchers are motivated to
make simple changes like turning lab thermostats up at night, and it becomes a win-win for
all those involved.
Dan Watch is Principal and S&T Global
Market Leader at Perkins+Will and is responsible
for the planning, programming and design of lab
facilities. With 30 years experience, he specializes
in building the bridge between research processes
and space requirements to meet the needs of lab
NIH Porter, designed by Perkins+Will, is one of the first to meet President
Obama’s initiative for more energy-efficient federal buildings. It includes geothermal wells, ground-source heat pumps, chilled beams and a photovoltaic
array, as well copious daylight.