Cheaper Sucker

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, CA, believe they can save the country more than $1.5 billion a year in electricity by updating the 60-year-old-design of a laboratory staple: the fume hood. There are close to a million fume hoods in the United States, protecting high-school chemistry students and industry researchers alike by sucking up airborne chemicals, microbes, and particles. But hoods also suck up a lot of power: a typical one uses more energy each year than three homes. The key to the efficiency of the Berkeley Lab’s design is small fans at the top and bottom of the hood opening that create a curtain of clean air between the worker and hazardous substances on the countertop. Behind that curtain, a more powerful fan draws out the contaminated air, in much the way a conventional hood’s does. But because the fumes are already contained, the new system requires only about a third of the airflow and therefore much less energy. Berkeley Lab researchers and fume hood manufacturers are now field-testing the hoods in operating laboratories.

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