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Process Optimization and Waste Minimization Through Sustainable Design: Planning for the Characterization of High Energy Materials (CHEM) Laboratory

James Stine, Marla Maltin, and Alicia Pope, Los Alamos National Laboratory


Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is building a new sustainable high explosives chemistry facility, the Characterization of High Energy Materials (CHEM) Laboratory. The goal of the design team is to create a highly efficient, flexible, leading edge scientific facility that supports the scientists in performing high quality mission work safely, securely and with respect for the environment. The team is using a holistic approach to sustainability, incorporating three integrated parts: the Human Factor, Environmental Efficiency, and Integrated Systems Management. In more simple terms, this sustainable or "green" building will plan for people, property, and processes. Our presentation will focus on the third, and often overlooked, key piece of sustainability. Integrated Systems Management involves looking at the processes and operations that will go into the new building in order to design for their early incorporation in a flexible way, using means such as a utility penthouse and partial basement. We will demonstrate that this truly holistic approach improves process and resource efficiencies, improves adaptability to mission changes, reduces or eliminates wastes, reduces associated environmental and safety hazards, and reduces regulatory vulnerabilities.


The CHEM Laboratory design team performed a life cycle cost benefit analysis to determine how best to incorporate the high explosives (HE) wastewater stream produced by routine chemical synthesis operations. This analysis contrasts two approaches to building design; "conventional construction" and "sustainable construction". For these purposes, sustainable construction differs from conventional in two main ways: 1) an integrated systems management approach is used in the pre-planning design phase to eliminate or reduce waste streams; and 2) input and consultation from multi-discipline experts and building users are incorporated in the pre-planning phase. Through our work we discovered that the biggest aid in reducing building impacts is a flexible building design, not designing for specific technology equipment and systems. Using this case study as an example, we will demonstrate the benefit of planning for a flexible, sustainable building that addresses future processes. We will also discuss the importance of early involvement of key players (users, owners, operations and maintenance personnel, health and safety experts, and waste management coordinators) in a new facility. Our presentation will show that large savings, with a relatively short pay back time, could be achieved through careful building planning that integrates a flexible design with waste management plans. These savings are derived from making the HE wastewater stream a closed-loop system. In addition to easily quantifiable cost factors, the study team also recognized less tangible but recognizable factors such as water conservation practices, impacts to mission vulnerability, response to changing environmental requirements, staff productivity and public image concerning environmental issues. The findings from this presentation will show that it is not whether we can afford the additional construction cost, but rather that we cannot afford not to design and build a sustainable laboratory, with people, property, and processes in the forefront of decisions.

Labs21 Connection:

In line with the Lab21 Approach, the design team for the Characterization of High Energy Materials (CHEM) Laboratory is dedicated to optimizing whole building efficiency. The design team voluntarily strives for achieving environmental excellence by using strategies such as life cycle cost analysis, Green Zia Environmental Excellence Program tools, and a comprehensive team approach to evaluating building impacts and efficiencies. This presentation reflects the design team's effort to put into place building wide planning strategies that will reduce environmental and safety risks, improve water conservation measures, increase the integration of systems, and ensure that the laboratory's mission can be executed with minimal impacts from external and/or internal changes. The overall flexibility of the building will allow for multiple waste minimization opportunities. This includes specialized treatment and reuse of the HE wastewater stream as opposed to relying on a conventional wastewater treatment facility.


James Stine received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in Physical Chemistry. He came to Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1977 where he spent most of his time in the High Explosives Science and Technology laboratories. His interests range from theoretical studies related to newly synthesized molecules to firing site operations. During the last decade he managed this group of 50 high explosives chemists, engineers, and technicians who work in the areas of organic, analytical and physical chemistry, chemical engineering, and physics. His most recent interest is in incorporating sustainable design features in the design of a new high explosives chemistry laboratory.

Marla Maltin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from Tufts University and is a LEED™ 2.0 Accredited Professional. Her background includes working in the fields of environmental conservation research and environmental consulting. Currently, she works as an environmental scientist with the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the Risk Reduction and Environmental Stewardship Division. Her work includes researching sustainable construction design practices and incorporating these concepts into the plans for a new high explosives chemistry laboratory as well as into LANL awareness as a whole. Marla is also involved with increasing the use of alternative fuels at LANL as well as building up the supporting infrastructure in Northern New Mexico.

Alicia Pope has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Risk Reduction and Environmental Stewardship Division for seven years. Alicia is responsible for implementing the Green Zia Environmental Excellence Program (Green Zia Program) at the Laboratory, which is based on the Malcolm Baldrige Model with an emphasis on implementing an environmental management system (EMS). Alicia completed her Masters in Public Administration and her thesis compared ISO 14001 to the Green Zia Program. Her background is in quality assurance, EMS, communications, sustainability, pollution prevention, and waste elimination. She has published a total of 15 reports in these areas.

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