Cleanrooms are essential for many industries, from pharmaceutical production to the development of high-tech components, multimillion-pound organisations rely on these hyper sterile facilities to maintain and control conditions that could otherwise jeopardise quality and safety.

In spite of their necessity, there is no escaping the fact that cleanrooms are incredibly energy-intensive spaces, with energy analysis revealing that they may be up to 100 times as energy-consuming as office buildings of similar size. This seemingly unavoidable energy expenditure poses a great challenge for the 60% of companies that have a sustainability strategy, with the environmental impact from operating clean spaces sure to be an obstacle for all those striving to achieve net-zero targets in the next decade or so.


But Why Are Cleanrooms So Energy-Intensive?

To guarantee a safe environment for production, sterile spaces control for a number of critical factors including temperature, humidity, pressure, oxygen and crucially, contamination. Airflow is supplied by the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in a concerted effort to maintain these conditions within tolerable levels and to regularly change the air in the room. Providing this required airflow is an energy-consuming process, particularly as cleanroom energy usage is not optimised in the context of performance. When we design controlled spaces, we often assume the facility will be frequently operating under worst-case scenarios – where contamination levels are at their highest and therefore air change rates (ACR) must also be at a high rate to combat this.

However, worst-case scenarios are not common in everyday operation. Most of the time, particle generation rates are low, meaning the airflow is unnecessarily high. The main consequence of maintaining this needlessly high airflow is energy wastage, and with 60-90% of cleanroom energy consumption derived from the HVAC system, the greatest opportunity for improving cleanroom energy efficiency lies within this area.


How Can We Reduce Cleanroom Energy Consumption?

As our team recently presented at the Cleanroom Technology Conference, if we are to improve cleanroom energy performance while maintaining and preserving essential conditions for production, the cleanrooms of the future need to be able to adapt to the demand and contamination within a space at any given time and respond by dynamically altering the air change rate.

Conceptually, dynamic cleanroom control builds upon this principle by reacting to the particle concentration of a room and adjusting the airflow to provide a steady contamination level. In the rare event of a worst-case scenario occurring, the system is able to increase air changes to combat any spike in contamination.

In the world’s first installation of a dynamic cleanroom control system in a commercial facility at a site in Cambridge, UK, our early data is indicating a 50% overall reduction in energy consumption – this is in contrast to a fixed ACR of 15 air changes per hour. It is also worth noting that this energy reduction will only improve as fan response performance is further optimised.

Want to learn more about our project in Cambridge? Watch our 30-minute Cleanroom Tech presentation now!


The Key is Compliance

One of the greatest obstacles to delivering dynamically controlled cleanrooms is qualification. Historically, cleanroom qualification and operation are predicated on a fixed air change rate, but by implementing an adaptive system, the previously held ‘fit and forget’ mindset is being challenged.

Despite this, the approach to qualification for a dynamic system is remarkably similar to the static counterpart – the requirement to prove the cleanroom is operating as expected remains central to the process.

As we progress towards qualification at the Cambridge Pharma facility, early indications suggest the space is operating as anticipated, with particle counts sitting well below the class limit for a grade C cleanroom and conversations between the client and the MHRA proving positive thus far.

The difficulty in innovation is challenging historical practices that have previously delivered successful results. For adaptive demand-based control, this is no different. Fixed air change rates have existed in cleanrooms for decades and have allowed global pharma to safely produce life-saving treatments for generations, but the environmental impact of operating energy-inefficient cleanrooms is taking its toll on the countless organisations striving to achieve decarbonisation targets. As an enabler of net-zero carbon cleanrooms, innovative technology such as the Intelligent Cleanroom Control System (ICCS) offer an opportunity for these companies to combat their energy consumption while still maintaining compliant environments.