While many aspects of commercial construction remain surrounded by uncertainty, the life sciences field is booming. Recently, Valent BioSciences LLC announced a major expansion of its biorational manufacturing facility in Osage, Iowa. The current facility opened eight years ago and at the time was one of the largest purpose-built biorational manufacturing facilities in the world.
That’s good news for commercial HVAC contractors who can meet that demand. These facilities come with very specific demands for temperature and humidity control. In addition, IAQ creates a major concern due to the use of potentially hazardous chemicals.
Commercial real estate firm CBRE Group Inc. reports that the U.S. life sciences market reached all-time highs in funding, demand for lab space, and new construction last year. The biggest growth took place in established markets, such as Boston and San Francisco. But other markets, especially in the Southeast, are growing quickly.
More demand in warmer areas helps the HVAC industry. Also, life science jobs are the kind that need in-person workers. The Valeant projects includes expanding laboratory, office, maintenance, and warehouse areas to house additional employees. Kathryn Rosser, life science marketing manager at Siemens Smart Infrastructure USA, said 2021 saw the field saw its second-largest job growth rate in the past 30 years.
“The life science industry has and continues to be on the rise,” Rosser said. “New technology and products, along with capital investments, have contributed to the growth. The pandemic led to an explosion in biotechnology investments, and employment has continued to surpass the U.S. job market growth rate.”
Brian Monk, general manager of custom airside systems at Carrier Commercial HVAC, said there is a shortage of available research-capable space in key geographic regions. As a result, there’s growing interest in converting assets for life science use amongst building owners. Buildings that are specifically designed for life science activities, or those that are being converted to specialized lab and testing functions, have special HVAC design requirements.
“The requirements of extraordinary air quality, precision cooling, exhaust systems, and specialized building controls as part of a comprehensive design differentiate a life science facility from the HVAC design for a commercial building,” Monk said. “The investment in HVAC in life science facilities is much greater than conventional buildings.”
Safety plays a key concern in selecting HVAC equipment for a life sciences facility, Rosser said. Solution providers should be able to help optimize lab operations and supply products specifically designed for room pressure control, ventilation and general extractions, laboratory fume hood control, and room air conditioning. For example, airflow measurement and pressurization control solutions should include true airflow measurement, and fast-acting or standard electronic actuation. They should come in multiple sizes and have material and coating options for highly corrosive environments.
Energy efficiency of HVAC equipment is another main concern, Monk said. Scientific buildings can sometimes require more than twice the power of a typical office building due to the additional ventilation systems and power densities required to support scientific equipment, he said. Most of these buildings are expected to run 24/7 and incorporate redundancy and emergency backup equipment.
“Most life science customers require HVAC manufacturers to demonstrate through testing or previous project data that chillers, air handlers, and controls can meet design at the lowest energy consumption possible,” Monk said.
He said that HVAC contractors who want to grow this segment of their business should partner with manufacturers that are providing leading-edge technologies and have experience in either applying turnkey solutions for this specialized market, or have worked with consulting engineers focused on providing added value through design to their customers.
In Life Science Labs, System Safety Goes High-Tech
Kathryn Rosser, life science marketing manager at Siemens Smart Infrastructure USA, said HVAC systems in the life science market must meet critical regulatory compliance, safety, and security requirements, as well as the 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 11 requirements. These include:
- Residing on validated systems (if validated systems are required in predicate rules);
- Being accurate, complete, and readable and able to be copied in their electronic form;
- Being protected but easily retrievable from archives;
- Computer-generated audit trails that track and timestamp all operator activities that create, modify, or delete electronic records (record changes cannot obscure the previous record data);
- Authority checks to ensure that only authorized individuals can use the system;
- Operational system checks to enforce permitted sequencing of steps and events;
- Device checks to determine that input data and instructions arrive from valid systems and locations;
- Appropriate user education, training, and experience to perform system tasks;
- Establishment of and adherence to written policies (SOPs) that hold individuals accountable and responsible; and
- Use of appropriate controls over systems documentation including document control over the distribution of, access to, and use of documentation for system operation and maintenance, and revision and change control.