Sustainability Considerations in Laser Manufacturing | COP26

At UniKLasers, we continue to reduce our environmental impact while maintaining good business practice - finding new ways to both implement cost-saving measures and minimise our overall waste and carbon footprint.

UniKLasers facility and cleanroom

Our green efforts are present across all our business functions and start in the cleanroom. We relocated to new premises in the summer of 2020, designing our own space to better work through the pandemic, while allowing us to implement a number of eco-friendly changes.

We built a cleanroom that expands our production capacity by 300% and the Class 7 classification meant that we could up-cycle our previous lab's optical benches and tools - instead of sourcing new ISO-stringent equipment that is required in higher classification areas. However, this also meant outfitting the lab with a suitable temperature and air flow control system. For our cleanroom size, the system we selected is the most efficient on the market and considerably reduces our impact on the environment.

Following the move, we replaced our disposable cleanroom garments with reusable suits from Micronclean - a cleanroom garments provider operating with a circular economy product cycle. According to a 2018 life cycle analysis comparing reusable and disposable cleanroom coveralls, there is an estimated 27% decrease in carbon footprint, 34% less energy used, 73% reduction in water use, and a 95% decrease in solid waste-to-landfill through the adoption of the reusable cleanroom coveralls.

Cleanroom suit cartoon pictured with sustainability statistics for re-usable cleanroom garments

Office and operations

For our office functions, we operate on a paperless basis and widely recycle any office waste and supplies. Recently, we connected with a local charity to donate several laptops for refurbishment. Pass IT On give donated computers a new life by refurbishing and adapting them for use by people with a disability or long-term health condition in the EH postcode area.

Sandy Kerr, Co-Founder and Manager of Pass IT On Computers
Sandy Kerr, Co-Founder and Manager of Pass IT On Computers

When shipping our laser products, our custom designed packaging allows us to protect the laser during shipment while routinely re-using un-damaged packing, made mostly from recyclable materials. We also provide customer documents and product manuals in digital form. For purchasing and procurement, our systems are run through a digital app and do not require paper forms to track inventory.

Our server-based set-up for document sharing and communications has allowed staff to work remotely since the company was started in 2013 – meaning less of our employees are on the road with a daily commute by car.

Ratho Park features a secure bicycle shed, showers, and changing facilities – encouraging UniKLasers employees to cycle to work. Nearby public transport links allow for a commute with lower emissions, while some of our employees would carpool prior to social distancing guidelines.

On the smaller end of the scale, we employ a ‘lights off’ policy for empty or naturally bright rooms, stock re-usable kitchen supplies, and partner with local suppliers where possible – with over 60% of our suppliers local to the Edinburgh area.

Design and manufacturing

At UniKLasers we design, develop, and manufacture our DPSS lasers in-house. This includes the design and assembly of our controllers as well as the custom changes we make to PCBs. The full manufacturing and test cycle is conducted at our Ratho Park facility and our materials are locally sourced wherever possible. While our lasers require consumables and non-renewable materials to function – we seek to minimise waste and re-use parts and components during the build process.

Our laser systems are also provided with online remote diagnostic software, which means we can provide technical and installation support to our customers without the need for long distance air travel – reducing our carbon footprint significantly.

During operation, our laser products utilise our unique technology platform to increase overall energy conversion and provide the maximum output power with low power consumption. The single frequency lasers provided in our product range approach the theoretical maximum for power conversion – making them as energy efficient as possible during operation.

Compared to cumbersome and costly gas lasers that consume over 500 W of electricity during operation, our compact solid-state design operates with only 25 W. This benefit of low power consumption extends into semiconductor manufacturing and other industrial environments where a solid-state laser contributes to a reduction in energy use. A typical semiconductor fab may consume as much as 100 MW per hour with energy costs reaching up to 30% of fab operating expenses. Incorporating greener solutions here mean a reduction in cost and energy consumption.

Applications for sustainability

The lasers are also used in applications directly related to reducing carbon emissions in the pursuit of efficient renewable energy. One of these applications is in the design and manufacture of next generation solar cells – photovoltaic cells composed of perovskite. Current photovoltaic cells use silicon; however, researchers are exploring perovskite as a lower cost, higher efficiency alternative. A small volume of perovskite material can generate the same amount of solar power as several tons of silicon.

Perovskite is affordable, sustainable, efficient, and has the potential to outpace silicon in the photovoltaics market. Single frequency ultraviolet lasers support the material analysis of perovskite and the ongoing goal of achieving high yield production.

At UniKLasers, we are also involved in national and international projects that aim to reduce the cost, size, footprint, and power consumption of key components used in quantum technology research. One such project is the development of a gravimeter that is used to perform accurate measurements of oil, water, gas, magma, and infrastructure underground – all without intrusive digging or drilling of the environment.

Through our R&D and product development plans, we continue to design and develop new wavelengths to facilitate application areas that contribute to a sustainable world – such as LIDAR, renewable energy, and environmental monitoring.