Closing in on Net Zero for High-Intensity Labs

Arlen Li, HGA
Travis Wanat, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The goal of achieving net zero energy lab buildings has become a common theme for projects now in the planning or design stages. While new strategies and systems have brought this goal within reach for "lab light" facilities, what are the possibilities for more intensive labs?

MIT.nano is an extreme example of the latter, a shared cleanroom and chemistry lab facility opened in 2018 that has demonstrated stellar energy performance through rigorous energy conservation measures and earned a 2021 AIA COTE Top Ten award, as well as numerous other sustainable design accolades. Yet if it were being designed today, the question of how close it could come to achieving net zero, given emerging technologies, raises an interesting prospect explored in this session.

This presentation will also include a discussion of the various definitions of net zero, how different institutions and organizations are approaching the goal, operational implications associated with high-performance labs, and comparison of modeled to actual energy usage.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand differences in how net zero energy is defined for science buildings;
  • Define the key strategies and implementation approaches to achieve net zero;
  • Evaluate the most impactful energy conservation measures targeted to specific building types; and
  • Describe specific new heat recovery technologies and mechanical and building systems to support energy use reduction and wider carbon neutrality for intensive labs.


Arlen Li is an architect and Associate Vice President at HGA, with over 35 years of experience planning and designing academic and corporate science facilities for leading institutions throughout the U.S. He promotes the integration of sustainable design in all building projects and is active in multiple local and national sustainability groups.

Travis Wanat is a Senior Project Manager for the Department of Facilities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With over 23 years of experience in the construction industry, he oversees the programming, design, and construction of capital projects including the recently completed MIT.nano, and the current Schwarzman College of Computing.


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