Energy Efficiency | May 29, 2019

Importance of Updating HVAC in Pharma + Biotech

The ability to control and automate building systems, including HVAC, is an obvious gain for a facility manager. HVAC systems form a critical component of any facility’s purpose and are responsible for several key functions, several of which are especially important for pharmaceutical facilities. Because HVAC enables production, pharmaceutical or otherwise, careful design and maintenance are of utmost importance, and improvements in HVAC in the pharma industry or the biotech industry can result in significant energy savings. A big part of this includes the controls system.


Benefits of Building Automation in Pharma

A Building Management System that is properly managed and regularly used by facility personnel enables pharmaceutical facilities to achieve better HVAC and other system operations. This ensures both the quality, sensitive environment necessary for pharma and system control all modern facilities need to lower costs and run efficiently.


The function of HVAC in pharma facilities

HVAC systems in biotech or pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities control three primary things:

  1. Manage airborne particles

  2. Set room pressure

  3. Control space moisture and temperature

The ventilation system must supply clean air and other various equipment is responsible for a clean, healthy environment within whatever specifications the facility requires. The HVAC and mechanical systems for pharmaceutical or biotech facilities are pretty complex to do these things, typically formed of multiple components, and each of those components (rooms or equipment) needs a large amount of energy to run.

Photo from a healthcare boiler installationPhoto from a recent healthcare boiler installation. 

Pharmaceutical facility components specific to the industry

There are dozens of examples of facility types and equipment needed for biotech or pharma buildings, among them:

  • Negative pressure rooms

  • Positive pressure rooms

  • Clean hallways or neutral hallways

  • Air handlers

  • Chillers

  • Clean steam/steam generators

  • Autoclaves

  • Fume hoods

  • HEPA filters

Biotech facilities must avoid contamination of both the exterior environment (toxic waste) and the product being manufactured (pharmaceutical drugs that require clean rooms for production).

Manufacturing processes for biotech have become more stringent and HVAC plays a critical role to ensure proper balance, pressure relationships and the type of facility that functions with regard to both internal production quality and environmental impact. 

Energy use in the pharmaceutical industry

The Engineering Science and Technology International Research Journal reports the following facts:

  • 49% increased energy consumption in the last couple of decades

  • 40% US total energy utilization is in buildings

  • 60% of that energy use is consumed in HVAC systems

  • 16-20% HVAC energy is lost due to heat transfer

It’s been general knowledge for years that energy consumption continues to rise and HVAC energy use composes a large portion of that consumption.

Less common is knowing how to tackle this challenge, especially in an industry like pharmaceutical manufacturing where environments are especially sensitive and prone to running more redundancy than needed based on the fear of risk rather than actual data.


How to save energy in mechanical systems and HVAC in pharma

Upgrade, schedule, measure, monitor, adjust and repeat. We’ve previously discussed energy efficiency in biotech and pharmaceutical facilities and pointed out three tactics for saving energy in HVAC systems:

  • Schedule system activities

Not every system needs to run at 100% when not needed. This can include lighting sensors or scheduling heating/cooling based on occupancy or run-hours.
  • Upgrade equipment

Equipment upgrades can bring immediate efficiencies simply with new models. Some of the most important pieces of equipment that probably need upgrades include chillers, air handlers and boilers. If designed for efficiency, this type of project can gain utility incentives to help cover cost.
  • Implement an energy management system

An EMS provides a central view of the facility’s systems. Building Management Automation and controls help you make decisions based on actual facility operations and energy use, rather than guesswork, legacy protocol or fear of downtime.

This third point, about energy management systems and the controls that enable this, is our focus to show how HVAC in pharma and biotech can run more efficiently and thus improve day-to-day operational activities and overall costs.


The purpose of BMS and what they can do

This isn’t rocket science. A well-designed Building Management System should be open protocol and pull data from all facility systems to show you what’s going on through a single viewport. The problem is often getting there.

For one example, a BMS will monitor and control airflow which affects relative humidity. For a biotech/pharma facility, managing relative humidity is important. An AHU has desiccant wheels for dehumidification and coils for humidification. The function of both varies on space requirements and outside air conditions. Integrating the AHU to your biotech/pharma facility BMS will give you a better handle on supply air humidity and when to adjust it.

Building automation is a powerful ally in a pharmaceutical facility. The system can control dozens of functions, including:

  1. Pressure airflow

  2. Lighting

  3. Support systems for vivarium control (for example, enabling a mimicking of outdoor lighting and day lighting cycles for animals in the lab)

  4. Water flow

  5. Emergency systems, including back-up emergency power

  6. Pretty much any mechanical equipment in the space


Evaluating HVAC in Pharma + Biotech for Upgrade/Validation Opportunities

For all HVAC, opportunities for retrofitting depend on:

  • Chilled water requirements

  • Hot water requirements

  • Process requirements

  • Age of equipment

  • Service of equipment

  • Application of equipment

  • Any redundant equipment

They also depend on how this equipment has been maintained, especially redundant equipment. In biotech specifically, it’s important to evaluate emergency equipment, life safety equipment and backup systems. Facilities should also perform load bank testing on generators.

To consider whether a facility needs an improved controls system, ask yourself:

  1. Can I see data from my HVAC and mechanical systems? Can I make operating decisions based on this data?
  2. When was the last time my system was updated?
  3. Do I really know, 100%, what’s in my pharma facility and how it’s all running?

You should know the answers to these questions, which tell you (a) do you have a BMS and if so (b) are you using it.

Controls systems and how they integrate with HVAC can be overwhelming. For pharmaceutical facilities, where sensitive equipment runs and environments are very carefully controlled, running a BMS streamlines a facility manager’s job. Implementing an intuitive system that connects HVAC and mechanical will only help a facility manager better manage the already-sensitive environment.