Energy Optimization in an Active Lab Building Undergoing Renovations: MIT Shows It Can Be Done Safely

Nate Fanning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Matt Fragala, Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc.

When talking about saving energy in laboratories one of the greatest concerns is safety. Energy optimization programs are often not undertaken in active labs, rather the focus is put on energy reduction during the design and construction of new labs. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Environmental Health and Engineering (EHE) teamed on a lab energy optimization project that not only shows a program can be implemented safely, it can be done while the laboratories are occupied and undergoing renovations.

MIT is dedicated to energy research and education, and that commitment begins with their own campus. MIT assessed energy consumption across their campus and identified that one laboratory building in particular was by far one of the biggest energy consumers. This building, the Whitaker Building, was selected to undergo renovations and energy optimization based on the results of a pilot study and projected ROI analysis. It was decided that the building would remain occupied during renovation.

MIT partnered with EHE to take on this challenge targeting 10% energy reduction in the Whitaker Building The facility houses approximately 47,300 square feet of lab space in addition to classrooms and offices. Critical to implementation of the program was detailed coordination between research and renovations and a process called "control banding", to accurately assess risk in each lab and identify viable candidates for energy savings.

Control banding involves review of the chemicals, materials, equipment and procedures used in the lab with the goal of aligning lab hazards with ventilation controls. Based on the control banding results, labs are assigned a risk group used to identify labs where air flow may be adjusted without negatively impacting safety or research.

This case study demonstrates that when done correctly energy optimization programs can safely reduce energy and actually improve building performance and further enhance safety. Data on the energy savings to-date and details on these additional program benefits will be shared.

The presenters will reveal the obstacles faced during this process such as:

  • Getting all stakeholders onboard including Principal Investigators and researchers.
  • Coordinating renovations and energy saving measures with the 24/7 operation of the laboratories.
  • Scheduling multiple ventilation shutdowns per day in multiple labs.
  • Maintaining an orderly work environment within the labs to allow contractors to work in the morning and researchers to work in the afternoon.
  • Ensuring security within the labs.

Lessons learned will be shared to help participants avoid pitfalls when embarking on a laboratory energy optimization program.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the control banding risk assessment process, including key data inputs and assigning the risk rating, and how it helps determine if a lab is a viable candidate for energy savings.
  • Strategize how to prioritize health and safety in the lab when implementing an energy reduction program even in an occupied lab.
  • Communicate the importance of a strong collaboration between facilities, health and safety departments, and researchers in order for lab energy savings programs to succeed, and how to obtain buy-in from all stakeholders.
  • Detail the coordination of energy optimization renovations (i.e., controls, valves, motors) while maintaining operations of an active research laboratory.


Nate Fanning is a Project Manager for the System Performance and Turnover group within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Facilities, a group tasked with identifying, analyzing, implementing, and tracking energy use reduction projects and initiatives on campus.

Nate earned his Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Construction Management from Wentworth Institute of Technology and holds a Certified Energy Manager certificate from the Associations of Energy Engineers.

Matt Fragala is Practice Director of the Education and Commercial Division at Environmental Health and Engineering. Matt directs a team of industrial hygienists, safety professionals, hazardous material managers, and compliance and air quality experts to help his clients achieve safety in the workplace.

Matt earned his Master of Science (MS) degrees from the University of Massachusetts, is a Certified Industrial Hygienist, and holds an academic appointment of Lecturer at Brandeis University.


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