Markus Sprenger-Haussels
Sustainability

Dr Markus Sprenger-Haussels on how to make your lab more eco-friendly

Dr Markus Sprenger-Haussels did his PhD in Genetics and held post-doctoral positions at Max-Planck Institutes in Cologne and Dortmund, before joining QIAGEN as a Laboratory Manager in 1999. Since then, he has held various positions within R&D, focusing on sample collection, stabilization and particularly nucleic acid extraction. Today, he is leading the product development of QIAGEN’s sample technologies, including the new line of more eco-friendly purification kits, QIAwave. In this blog, Dr Sprenger-Haussels talks about the development of the QIAwave Kits and how to make your lab more sustainable.

Can you tell us about the development of more eco-friendly products at QIAGEN and what this means to you?

For me, it’s really important to follow the same sustainability principles and values in my working life as I do in my private life.

I recently renovated my house and put a lot of effort into reducing its ecological footprint. As a result, I now use a lot less carbon and energy and generate less pollution. But in my professional life, it’s not always the same story.  Every day, I see that we’re creating so much lab waste. It hurts me to see that we are a part of the problem. 

When we first started talking about making sample prep more eco-friendly, I was on fire straight away. There’s so much we can do, especially with the packaging. 

What we’ve achieved so far with our new QIAwave sample prep products is a massive step in the right direction. We’ve removed paper instructions for use and single-use spin column packaging, provided buffers as concentrates, and replaced the collection tubes with reusable ones made from 100% recycled plastic. This will already help our customers make substantial waste savings. Additionally, because the kits are much smaller, they take up less storage space and use less energy for transport. 

The whole dialogue of brainstorming how to reduce waste and CO2 emissions in sample extraction finally led us to a great concept. I’m proud to be a part of the team pushing this through, and we’re already busy planning more, so watch this space. 

 

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When we first started talking about making sample prep more eco-friendly, I was on fire straight away. There’s so much we can do.
Dr. Markus Sprenger-Haussels, Vice President, Head of Sample Technologies Product Development Life Sciences, QIAGEN.

What sustainable measures are we taking in the QIAGEN R&D labs in Hilden?

We’ve been thinking about this for a while, and we’ve already made some impactful changes. For example, we changed the temperature of our -80°C freezers to -70°C. Although it’s a very small change, it makes a big difference to our energy consumption. We also collect and recycle pipette tip boxes and aluminum. 

As a team, we’ve become more eco-minded, which means using glass where we can and switching off instruments when they’re not in use. In the office, we’ve made a conscious effort to minimize the amount of paper and ink we use and we are expecting to start using electronic lab journals soon instead of printing and storing paper records of all our development activities.

We’re also excited to be working closely with “My Green Labs” to see how we can make further improvements. It’s a huge challenge. Especially when some of our consumables simply cannot be avoided. 

Can you tell us a bit more about QIAGEN’s partnership with My Green Labs?

It’s a recent collaboration, so we’re still figuring out how it’ll work. But soon, a few of us will be taking part in a training session to become My Green Lab ambassadors. This means becoming part of a forum where ambassadors can exchange experiences and report what they’ve done. My Green Labs will also provide advice on how to make our labs more sustainable. I’m looking forward to hearing their recommendations, figuring out how to implement them, and of course, seeing the results. 

How easy has it been to make changes in the lab?

It does take time, but it’s not unachievable. For example, there was some initial anxiety about increasing the freezer temperature from -80°C to -70°C. We all wanted to be sure that the quality of our biomaterials would not be affected. After doing an in-depth literature search and weighing up the scientific evidence, we were confident in our decision to change the temperature. But that wasn’t the end of the story. A centralized system monitors the lab freezers, so the safety team is alerted in case the temperature drops below a certain value. This meant that we had to adapt the interval of our alarm settings to avoid false alarms. It’s just small things like this that need to be considered. 

Recycling also requires planning and logistics. For example, when we started recycling pipette boxes, we needed to find storage space and organize the collection and the return to the vendor. Luckily, we have a very motivated team and individuals who are willing to take the initiative. It’s those individuals and the teamwork that makes it all possible in the end. 

Are you measuring the impact?

For the freezer temperature, unfortunately not, but I think it would be really motivating if we could. An average -80°C freezer uses 12,000 kwh per year - that’s as much as a standard family home in the United States! Setting the temperature to -70°C instead of -80°C saves up to 40% energy, so I would expect to save 4800 kwh per freezer per year.  There are more -80°C freezers in the building and other departments, so it would be interesting to expand the initiative and see how much of an impact it has on the overall energy consumption of our entire R&D department over time. With recycling, it’s a bit easier to measure. Every 4-8 weeks, we send back a pile of boxes that practically reach the ceiling.

Future outlook?

We have plans to expand our QIAwave initiatives to develop additional kits with reduced plastic and carbon footprint. We are redesigning some of our mass produced single-use plastic consumables in order to build the same functionality by using less plastics (e.g. by reducing the wall thickness and by using stiffer material and more sophisticated design); we are currently testing first prototypes which are saving more than 40% plastic compared to legacy products. We are also looking into options to further concentrate high-salt buffers by developing powder pouches or even tablets, which have to be reconstituted by the end user before use. With such a concept we would ultimately avoid shipping water around the globe. There are so many great ideas and a great team behind it, that’s why I am very confident that many of those ideas will come to market in the coming years. 

7 top tips to reduce waste and save energy in the lab:

  1. Increase freezer temperature from -80°C to -70°C
  2. Defrost your fridges and freezers on a regular basis
  3. Use glassware for buffers
  4. Use more eco-friendly alternatives like QIAwave, wherever possible
  5. Recycle pipette tip boxes
  6. Recycle aluminum
  7. Switch off light, PCs, laptops and instruments when leaving the lab

References

Piet K Beekhof, Maryana Gorshunska & Eugène HJM Jansen (2012). Long term stability of paraoxonase-1 and high-density lipoprotein in human serum

Marta José, Rodrigo Gajardo, Juan I Jorquera (2005). Stability of HCV, HIV-1 and HBV nucleic acids in plasma samples under long-term storage. 

A. Espinel-Ingroff, D. Montero and E. Martin-Mazuelos (2004) Long-Term Preservation of Fungal Isolates in Commercially Prepared Cryogenic Microbank Vials.

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