Safety-Driven Energy Savings: A Novel Laboratory Inhalation Risk Assessment Program that Guides Precision Ventilation

Quentin Gilly, Harvard University Office for Sustainability
Christopher Bitzas, Siemens

General ventilation rates in laboratories are typically higher than other commercial and residential spaces. This is partially driven by the thermal gain from the equipment and air needed for fume hoods, but is also driven by safety experts that advocate for the need of a ventilation buffer due to the many unknowns about how chemicals are being used for research in the labs. Studies have been conducted that measure fugitive emissions from chemical spills and other processes, but little has been done to quantify the inhalation risk during normal laboratory operations.

A team of safety and sustainability experts at Harvard and MIT have created an innovative method for addressing this information gap. Aided by a portable Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) gas analyzer, (Gasmet DX4040), the Laboratory Inhalation Risk Assessment (LIRA) program is a quantitative approach to evaluating the inhalation risks in laboratory spaces. The gas analyzer is capable of fully quantifying over 240 chemicals simultaneously in real time in the laboratory air, including those chemicals that could potentially enter the air during research processes that may happen at the lab bench. By combining the power of the portable FTIR instrument with a newly developed air sampling method, LIRA is a high-quality and low-cost program that can be replicated in higher-education laboratories and beyond.

Harvard's internal safety guidelines recommend 6-8 air changes per hour in occupied labs, and 4 air changes per hour in unoccupied labs. The assumption is that air is currently safe to breath at this ventilation rate, which is common for laboratory buildings in higher education. The hypothesis is that lab air is still safe to breath at a lower ventilation rate. The best way to verify that a lower ventilation rate is acceptable, is to sample the air in the breathing zone under both normal and worst-case scenarios. This quantitative and representative approach to sampling lab air can then be provided to safety experts for analysis, to aid them their decision making regarding minimum ventilation rates.

Most experts agree that lower general ventilation rates in labs will likely save energy and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to quantifying the lab inhalation risk, the LIRA team is also quantifying the energy savings. Two lab buildings were selected for the LIRA pilot on the Harvard Campus. One building has centralized primary HVAC equipment, and a second older building that uses a varied and distributed system configuration. The presentation with review both the safety aspects and energy use changes associated with lower ventilation rates in labs.

Learning Objectives

  • learn about the utilization and calibration of the Gasmet DX4040 for assessing indoor air quality in the laboratory environment
  • learn about how Harvard is integrating the LIRA process as part of their larger goal of a university-wide laboratory ventilation management plan.
  • gain insight into the inhalation risk assessment process. How the safety and sustainability teams work with researchers and facilities to expedite the LIRA process to save energy and reduce safety risks.
  • be provided information about how lab building energy use changes with regards to air exchange rates. The two buildings that were assessed as part of the LIRA pilot study that represent the spectrum of what is found in higher education laboratory buildings.


Quentin Gilly is the Senior Coordinator with the Harvard University Office for Sustainability, representing the Harvard Green Labs Program. Before joining the Office for Sustainability in 2014, Quentin was a lab manager at the Harvard Medical School Department of Genetics. Quentin is a Certified Energy Manager, and holds a bachelor's degree from Indiana University, and a master's degree from Harvard in Environmental Management.

Chris Bitzas is a Senior Energy Engineer with Siemens with 16 years of experience in building energy and automation. He is contracted, as a full time energy engineer, to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Prior to his role with Harvard Chris was a project developer in Siemens' performance contracting group. Chris holds CEM and LEED AP designations, a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a master's in Energy Systems from Northeastern University.


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