By Suzanne Elvidge
“Green” has been the buzzword of the last decade, with everything from packaging to industrial processes labeled as eco-friendly. Can cleanrooms, where the first essential is high-standard air filtration and scrupulous cleanliness (or even sterility), ever afford to consider green issues?
The changes within the cleanrooms industry are a result of both a “pull” from customers and a “push” from the manufacturers and suppliers. “We had not seen much demand specifically for ‘green building’ in the cleanroom market up until now,” says Wayne McGee, president of PortaFab Corporation. “However, it now seems that some customers are starting to make green concerns part of their purchasing decisions, especially those from the larger companies. We also have a commitment to make our own production processes more eco-friendly. As environmental concerns become a bigger issue and awareness increases, it will be important for manufacturers to look at certification. For example, our company is looking to gain certification through LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]. This looks at all the steps, such as the vendors or the packaging we use, and will require commitment across the company, from all our employees as well as the management team, and it shows that we are dedicated to change.” Administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED Green Building Rating System is a certification system designed to recognize and support sustainable green building and development practices.
Some of the desire from pharma/bio companies to reduce the environmental impact of cleanrooms is based on the requirements of the ISO 14001 standard, which specifies the international standards for a company’s environmental management system. According to Bernie Gaon, chief engineer at cleanrooms manufacturer Terra Universal, “ISO 14001 is not a major requirement for us at this point — we see it more as a concern for the facilities people at the installation site. However, we can customize all buildings to meet the customer’s ISO 14001 requirements.”
SOME AREAS TO GO GREEN
The key environmental issues within cleanrooms are a result of the basic construction materials used to create the cleanroom — the energy used by lights, fans, heaters, air conditioners, and other electrical equipment; the energy usage and waste generated by disposable or laundered clothing; and the production of contaminated wastewater. There is a perception that there is always a cost associated with going green, and while some green strategies, such as changing to low energy lighting or eco-cleaning products, may cost more in the short term, many can actually save money in the long term. “While costs are always important, if manufacturers are committed to becoming greener, they can do so with minimal cost implications,” says McGee. “We are trying to incorporate green thinking into our new products without affecting the costs — it is often a process of thought as much as of expenditure. Energy saving, for instance, is very important, especially in the United States, where the government has introduced tax incentives to promote reductions in power use.”
Modular cleanrooms are, by their very nature, more sustainable than their fixed equivalents, as end users can move or reconfigure them as required or even store them for future reuse. The basic construction of most modular cleanrooms is an aluminum or steel skeleton, covered with a rigid or flexible skin. Once the cleanroom has reached the end of its life or if it is no longer required, the metal skeleton can be recycled. Manufacturers are also making panels out of recycled or recyclable materials. “We try to incorporate recyclable materials into the construction of our cleanrooms,” says McGee.
Alan Sheridan, managing director of Octanorm UK, explains, “Almost every part of our wall and ceiling systems can be reused, allowing changes in layouts or even complete dismantling and reinstallation elsewhere.” Gaon notes that even the filters in most cleanrooms can be reconfigured for different ISO requirements. “All of these advantages of modular cleanrooms compared with fixed installations translate to environmental benefits,” he says.
Fans And Air Circulation
Cleanrooms have a high energy use, particularly associated with the filters that remove particles from the air. Rather than using a continuous supply of filtered fresh air, refiltering circulated air can reduce the energy requirements in a cleanroom.
“The greatest opportunity for applying green principles in cleanrooms is in the area of energy saving,” says Gaon. “Some manufacturers are now producing filter fans with lower energy motors. However, a simple way to save energy is to fit the fans with smart control systems, so that their operation correlates with work schedules. As most of the costs are associated with reducing contamination, including lowering the number of particles in the air, another simple way to save energy is to reduce the number of people who go in and out of a cleanroom, perhaps by creating isolated critical clean zones. This will also reduce labor costs overall and the materials and labor costs and waste associated with the laundry or disposal of clothing, which is inherently greener. Though being green is perhaps not the primary motivator behind this move, by increasing efficiency, a company thus improves its green profile as well.”
Heating, Cooling, Lighting
Cleanrooms may need to be kept at specific temperatures, either for the comfort of the staff or for the requirements of the project. New cleanroom designs incorporate walls and ceilings with improved thermal values, which helps keep heat in or out, thus reducing heating or cooling costs. “It’s possible to use isolated walls and ceilings to save energy costs,” says Sheridan. Other routes for energy savings include the use of energy-efficient lights, which, though initially more expensive than conventional lighting systems, use less energy and emit less heat (so saving on air conditioning costs).
Many suppliers are producing low-energy and energy-efficient versions of equipment to reduce energy costs and lower the environmental impact. For example, insulated glove boxes reduce heating or cooling at high and low temperatures.
Decontamination And Cleaning
Manufacturers have designed modern modular cleanrooms to reduce the possibility of dirt and particles becoming trapped in joints and corners, making the rooms easier and quicker to clean. Even wipers and mops are being redesigned to be reusable or to be more efficient so using fewer cleaning solutions and solvents.
“Modular cleanroom design, particularly biopharmaceutical designs that optimize surface cleanliness and minimize cracks, seams, and surface irregularities, can also minimize the amounts of chemicals and cleaning products required and the time taken to maintain cleanliness and sterility, reducing product and labor costs and lessening the impact on the environment,” says Gaon.
Clothing for use in cleanrooms is designed to release as few particles as possible and is generally not woven. To support the greening of cleanrooms and to reduce costs associated with production and disposal, many companies are moving away from single-use, disposable clothing or changing the way that clothing is used. For example, the use of glove liners can reduce the number of pairs of gloves required each day.
“We started the move towards ‘green’ a long time ago, before it became a buzzword,” says Myles Reukema, director of national sales, Prudential Overall Supply, Prudential Cleanroom Services. “In cleanroom processes, a lot of products are used only once. By converting to reusable products, our customers can become greener by reducing waste, which also reduces costs. For example, instead of being thrown away after one use, our gowns and shoe covers can be reused for about 50 processes for sterile applications or for around 100 processes for nonsterile applications. Our goggles can be reused for about six processes, rather than just one.”
If reusable clothing has to be laundered, industrial laundry machines are now more energy-efficient and use less water, as well as reusing rinse water. LaundryESP is the U.S. laundry service industry’s environmental stewardship program and a joint initiative of the Uniform and Textile Service Association (UTSA) and the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA). The program has claimed a 40% reduction in the discharge of pollutants, a 13% reduction in water usage, and an 11% reduction in energy usage, as well as significant substitutions of environmentally friendly laundry chemicals since it set the goals in 1999.
Waste Reduction Processes
To improve their overall green profile, manufacturers are also moving toward improving their management of waste, for example contaminated wastewater. “We feel we manage our wastewater well. The water we put back into the system is cleaner than the water we take in,” says Reukema.