Waterless Condensers – Saving Water and Reducing Risk in Laboratories
Martin Farley – Research Efficiency Manager, KCL
Chemistry and pharmacy laboratories can consume large amounts of water, typically used for cooling of reactions and equipment. Some of the reactions which utilise water cooling can last hours and even days, meaning tonnes of water will be used and run straight into the drain. Not only does this have an environmental cost, but it can result in damages through flooding and leaks. This very scenario occurred within the Franklin-Wilkins building of King’s College London (KCL), when an overnight condensation reaction using flowing tap water to cool a reaction had a loose pipe. The resulting damage due to the flooding exceeded £10,000, and needless to say the reaction itself was a failure.
Simultaneous to this flood, KCL Sustainability had begun investigating a new piece of equipment coming onto the market termed ‘air-condensers’, or ‘waterless condensers’. These would expose contents to a high surface-area of glass in contact with only the air, and would provide sufficient cooling without the running of water to permit condensation within. At the time only two companies had produced such condensers, and a trial was set-up with users from KCL’s Pharmacy & Forensic Science Department. Both units being compared performed well, but users and KCL Sustainability decided on the Asynt version, termed the CondenSyn.
KCL Sustainability funded the purchase of 25 of these units for Chemistry and Pharmacy laboratories where the majority of condensation reactions were taking place. To accompany the new equipment, a user guide was created (pictured upper right), and users were consulted to ensure they understood why they were being purchased and what solvents would work best (not all do). Users were consulted after 6 months of use, and reported back that they found them to be “useful enough that when we broke one or two, we decided to replace them ourselves” according to Simona Blasio (Research Student, Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences).
Crucially, the new units were found to be effective for the researchers themselves, and simultaneously avoided the need for running tap-water to cool overnight thus reducing the associated risk of flooding. Based on estimates of usage from those using the units, they saved an estimated £3,300 in water costs, or more than 1,500 m3 of water per year! This doesn’t factor the savings due to avoided flooding as well. Pictured left is one of the units in action at KCL’s Chemistry department.