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Take Action: Store Smart

The Store Smart program was started at UC Davis with a goal of using laboratory cold storage as efficiently as possible. The program seeks to partner with researchers to improve sample access, reduce the risks related to freezer use, and save energy. About 1,000 ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers are in use at UC Davis and demand is growing.

Each ULT annually uses an equivalent amount of electricity as a typical single family home, as well as incurring maintenance costs. When a freezer fails, samples may be lost permanently or damaged, jeopardizing research projects and data archives. And, without sample management tools, samples and bioassay materials can be misplaced or forgotten about, resulting in an uncertain archive of important scientific data.

Store Smart programs

Photo: Store Smart logo with DNA snippet

Store Smart logo, designed by UC Davis senior Design/English double major Brittany La, as part of a course project taught by Lect. Gale Okumura in spring 2010.

The Store Smart program has four initial components:

  1. Good management practices: This educational effort explains how to defrost, clean out, take inventory and care for an ultra-low temperature freezer to save energy and prolong freezer life. The Freezer Cleanout Information flyer, in PDF, provides more detail. To learn about safe sample disposal, see the Disposal Guidelines flyer, in PDF.
  2. Temperature tuning: One ultra-low temperature freezer uses the equivalent energy of a large household, and an ultra-low temperature freezer set to minus 60 degrees Celsius may use half the electricity of one set at minus 86 degrees Celsius. The temperature tuning campaign seeks to encourage researchers to use science-based storage guidelines for their samples by ultra-low freezer temperature tuning (raising the set point by 10 degrees Celsius or more) or storing DNA at minus 20 degrees Celsius. At minus 70 degrees Celsius, there are examples of microbial cultures, proteins, yeast strains and cell lysates, among other sample types, being stored for years. DNA can be stored safely at minus 20 degrees Celsius, in standard freezers, for an energy savings of nearly 75 percent. This DNA storage practice is already standard practice with both plant and animal DNA in various labs at UC Davis and across the country.
  3. Retirements and upgrades: With cleanout and safe disposal of unwanted samples, researchers may find they can consolidate or share a freezer with another lab group, and be able to retire a freezer altogether and receive a cash rebate. For those lab groups that decide to replace an old freezer with a new, more energy efficient model, rebates are also available through the existing Freezer/Refrigerator Replacement Program.
  4. Cutting edge techniques: Sharing a freezer, creating a detailed sample inventory with sample management software and storing samples with alternative methods such as room temperature sample storage are "cutting edge techniques" that are part of the overall sample management campaign. The campaign goals are to save up to 1 megaWatt-hour annually by 2020 and archive 20 percent to 40 percent of current sample inventory with alternative storage methods, while making samples safer and more accessible. A fund has been set up to aid conversion to room temperature sample storage for sample integrity and energy conservation. Subsidies are available for materials, labor or robotics for sample transfer, sample management software, and rebates for retired freezers.

Freezer Challenge: 2012

The Freezer Challenge is a national competition, started at UC Davis, as a way to introduce the laboratory cold storage management techniques described above in the Store Smart program. The program features a different facet of Store Smart each season, beginning in fall with Temperature Tuning. The goals for the Freezer Challenge are to save energy, retire as many freezers as possible by June 3, and improve sample access and security.

UC Davis competed against six other universities (University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Colorado at Boulder, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University and the Medical University of South Carolina) in the spring 2011 Freezer Challenge. The 2012 Freezer Challenge will run September 23, 2011 through June 3, 2012.

While the main priority of this friendly competition is to save energy, it is also designed to help participants learn how to increase their sample access and security, develop key sample management skills, and maintain freezers in optimum condition to keep their research samples safer.

The challenge is for as many labs as possible to participate in freezer temperature tuning, cleaning & maintenance, and in organizing samples and identifying material in need of disposal.

Participating UC Davis labs can obtain points in multiple categories by undertaking various best practices, such as cleaning out freezers, retiring old freezers/refrigerators, and freezer temperature tuning. Winners will be determined by most points won, and will receive special or humorous recognitions (PDF). The Freezer Challenge Brochure (PDF) provides an overview of the contest.

To participate in this campaign, please take the preliminary step of registering online. Your lab ID or team name will be your identification for the subsequent questionnaires to track your involvement with each campaign.

Freezer Challenge Contest Description

Participants choose which Freezer Challenge activities make sense for their labs' participation. The Freezer Challenge organizers realize that these activities require effort and hope that labs will join in because it not only benefits the campus' energy use and contributes to UC Davis' Climate Action Plan; but it will also help improve participating labs' long-term sample storage and extend the life of vitally important (and expensive) freezers.

Contest Point Categories

There are four seasonal contest categories, and actions and points are detailed in the Score Sheet. To win points, participants must record their actions in the appropriate surveys.

Fall: Temperature Tuning  (Record points in the Freezer Temperature Tuning Survey.)
An ultra-low temperature freezer set to -60 °C may use half the electricity of one set to -86 °C. To earn points, users tune their freezer set-point by +10 °C (or more) for at least 6 months. Participants need to identify the sample types (i.e. tissues, molecules, cultures, reagents, etc.) being stored. Participants can also earn points for storing DNA at -20 °C in standard freezers, or for moving DNA from an ultra-low temperature freezer to a standard freezer.

To earn bonus points, identify the time frame for each sample type stored at these temperatures. There is very little scientific data that shows the appropriate temperature for various sample types and this response will establish the range of credible sample storage methods.

Winter: Freezer Retirement and Upgrade (Record points in the Retirement and Upgrade Survey.)
Freezer retirement is the ultimate challenge (and wins the most points) as it requires researchers to remove freezers. Ultra-low temperature freezers use the greatest amount of energy and therefore garner the most points. The Freezer Challenge also welcomes retirement of -40 °C, -30 °C, -20 °C and multiple glass door refrigerators. “Retirement” includes a one-year pledge not to replace the freezer. Challenge program assistants can also help recycle old items that you no longer need.

Tip: Assess the material in your ultra-low temperature freezer. Often, samples do not require -80 °C and can be safely stored at higher temperature. For example, if you have an ULT freezer full of DNA, consider switching to dry storage or a -20 °C freezer instead.

Equipment upgrade is the replacement of an old unit with an energy-efficient one. The freezer must be validated with kW of Amp measurements, data from Labs21 Wiki, Energy Star, or the manufacturer.

Spring: Good Management Practices (Record points in the Freezer Clean-Out, Inventory and RTSS Survey.)
Labs will be awarded points according to each cubic foot of space saved by reorganizing, discarding unneeded samples, and proper inventory & labeling. Practices for cleaning a freezer are explained in detail in the Introduction to Freezer Challenge (PDF). Each newly cleaned and organized freezer will receive an award sticker for successful participation in the Freezer Challenge 2011.

Participants can upload photos of their freezers for the "before and after," "frostiest," and "interesting finds" categories to the campaign's Facebook page. Be sure to give your team name, PI, and university so you get the credit.

It is important to note that a full freezer runs more efficiently and cools down more slowly if power is lost. If your samples do not take up a whole freezer, consider loaning space to another Principal Investigator or fill the empty space with frozen water jugs (or anything, such as an old cooler, that displaces air). The fuller your freezer, the less your compressor must work to cool the air and the longer the compressor will last. Similarly, raising the temperature in your ULT freezer requires the compressor to work less, which should result in a longer lasting freezer.

Year-round: Cutting Edge Techniques (Record points in the Freezer Clean-Out, Inventory and RTSS Survey.)

Freezer sharing accrues points when additional PI’s store samples in the same freezer and thus avoids purchasing a freezer. Points will be received for every additional researcher that shares the freezer. Also, if sharing a freezer allows for the retirement of another freezer, points for both actions will be combined.

Sample management software can definitively organize your current and archived samples, assist with retro-studies, identify expired samples, and enable organization by research objective rather than researcher. You will gain extra points if you enter your samples on a searchable database.

Room temperature sample storage: Researchers now have the ability to store DNA, RNA, and materials saved for later extraction of DNA and RNA at room temperature for the long term or short term.  Presently most DNA and RNA samples are typically stored in freezers by researchers.  However, a switch to room temperature storage will not only result in obvious energy savings but also better security for the researcher’s samples since it will avoid the dependence on continuous electricity or a mechanical freezer, both of which could fail.

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