Power Consumption In The Lab

When in use, a laboratory computer can require anywhere from 500 to 1000 watts (W) of power (1 W is equivalent to 1 joule per second). Therefore, every second the lab computer is on it is consuming 500 to 1000 joules of energy. Just to give you a sense of the effects of energy usage, continuously using 1000 W for an entire year (8,760 kW*hr) can produce as much as 0.24 metric tons of CO2 emissions. In a chemistry laboratory it is not uncommon to find six computers running at all times. Lets say, conservatively, that a single computer uses 500 W of power. Every year, this lab is producing 0.72 metric tons ofCO2 emissions from all six computers running year round. Putting this in prospective, the average carbon footprint is four metric tons per year per person worldwide. Now let’s add in the lights, furnace, vacuum pumps, etc. and you can see how easily the energy usage and CO2 emissions can add up. Below is a list of a few devices commonly found in a scientific lab and their approximate power consumptions.



Approximate   Power Consumption (W)

Hotplate/Stir plate


Laboratory Computer


Vacuum Pumps




UV/Vis Spectrometer


Fluorescent Lights


Small Mass Spectrometer



Not only is it wasteful and harmful to leave computers and equipment powered on but, in fact, it can also create wear-and-tear on equipment and instruments. This wear, over time, will cause damage to the equipment. Next, you have to order a new part to repair the device. The part must be manufactured and delivered to the lab; therefore, more energy is required and more emissions produced. Maybe this delivery is local and it’s a truck drive away; however, most specialty parts will need to be flown or shipped from long distance. All this travel adds to the CO2 emission directly by the burning of fossil fuels. With a simple flip of the switch these problems can be avoided.


Another source of power usage is the neglect of equipment. Walking through the lab I can spot at least one stir plate that has been left on due to forgetfulness. Although it may be accidental, this drains power and can lead to CO­2 emissions. This forgetfulness can add up over time and drastically increase the carbon footprint of the laboratory and our community.


It is the goal of every green scientist (and should be the goal of every scientist) to lower his or her own carbon footprint in the lab. Simply turning off the lights at night is a good start, but don’t stop there. If possible turn off your computers and other electronic devices as well. Most scientists don’t realize just how much energy is wasted, either by purposely leaving on instruments or by accident. Every scientist should think about their day in the laboratory and ask themselves if these devices really need to be on and can I save some energy by turning this off? If the answer is yes you should take action.