Keeping Biotech Buildings Green: Genzyme case presented at MassBio Forum

Dec 09, 2015

By: Michael Cohen, Founding Partner, Cohen Partners

Thermal image of a Genzyme boiler.

Thermal image of Genzyme boilerImagine preheating the fresh air drawn in on a steamy July afternoon because your smart building thinks it’s below zero outside.

That’s what happened recently at a Genzyme facility in Massachusetts, but the people working in the offices, labs and biomanufacturing suites didn’t realize there was a problem because the air-cooling system went into overdrive and chilled the preheated air before distributing it throughout the building.

“Simultaneous heating and cooling is a big issue,” said Steven P. Driver Ph.D., Energy Program Manager at Genzyme. “Our biggest offenders are green buildings. When things go out of calibration, we go through a lot more energy.”

Driver was a panelist at the MassBio Forum, Selling Sustainability – How You Can Incorporate Efficient Practices Now on October 28, 2015 that focused on sustainability programs and energy efficiency best-practices for life sciences research laboratories and biotech manufacturing companies.

Genzyme invests in state-of-the-art buildings and systems to foster sustainable operations, reduce its carbon footprint and to save money on energy costs, Driver said. In 2014 Genzyme completed 13 energy related projects that will avoid the generation of 3,500 metric tons of carbon and save the company $2.7 million over five years.

“On average, our project payback was 13 months, and that’s for all costs. Sometimes it was as quick as eight months,” Driver said.

An expert in building operations, Driver’s doctoral thesis studied the impact of “retroactive commissioning” done by people inspecting systems and finding problems, versus “ongoing commissioning” which uses technology to pull real-time data from mechanical systems and develop actionable information. He found that both were essential for maximum efficiency.

The culprit at Genzyme on that hot July afternoon was a failed air sensor that reported the outside temperature to be 50 degrees below zero, prompting the preheaters in the HVAC system to warm the air. The faulty sensor was not detected by building staff or standard controls. The faulty sensor was discovered through an “ongoing commissioning” program Genzyme initiated using a specialized software platform called Analytika from Cimetrics to monitor and analyze their buildings’ mechanical systems.

“Human intelligence is important, but it’s not enough. To make a complex building sustainable, you have to use both human intelligence and advanced technology,” Driver said. “In our case, Analytika reviews 17,000 points every three minutes and processes that data. It’s just not possible for a person to do that. You need the technology.”

Genzyme now has nine facilities in Boston, Framingham and Northborough Massachusetts integrated on the Analytika platform for ongoing commissioning, Driver said. Data from those 17,000 points are processed by more than 1,000 algorithms the Cimetrics engineering team has developed and refined over several years to create actionable information about building operations. Cimetrics engineers work closely with Driver’s team to interpret the information generated by the Analytika system and develop specific initiatives to improve operations and capture savings.

For example, after examining Analytika data about set-points on thermostats in Genzyme’s Allston, Massachusetts facility, Driver realized that the HVAC system was working more than it should to maintain desired temperatures. If a person set their office temperature at 70 degrees, for example, the system would kick on at 69 to warm the room or 71 to cool it off. With such a tight “dead band” on the thermostat, the system was bouncing between heating and cooling too often to stay at 70 degrees.

“Simply by extending that dead zone a degree on each side, we avoided a lot of unnecessary heating and cooling, saved more than $100,000, avoided the release of 407 metric tons of carbon, and there was no impact on employee comfort,” Driver said.

Another key benefit of having a sophisticated system monitoring building performance in real time is data collection for FDA regulatory compliance and to avoid potential damage to drugs in production. “Say a valve gets stuck open and the temperature could go out of bounds in an area where we have drug product being made or stored, then we’ll get that warning right away and can take action before there is a problem,” Driver said. “It’s like an insurance policy.”

Driver said his team uses human intelligence and novel retroactive commissioning technologies like thermal imaging cameras to spot problematic areas in buildings. Ongoing commission with Analytika, however, remains at the core of their efficiency program.

“You can’t just do it once, grab the low-hanging fruit, then move on,” Driver said. “You have to remember that low-hanging fruit grows back over time and new problems occur. It’s easy for these complex buildings to get off track, so you need to implement ongoing commissioning.”

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