Selecting Life Science Enclosures

It’s no secret. The importance of life science research is at an all-time high. With the pandemic producing new research goals aided by new funding, labs are rapidly finding new ways to conduct science. Complicating the situation are inflationary pressures created by the pandemic, driving the cost of science to entirely new levels. In many ways, the costs are unavoidable. Producing cutting edge discoveries frequently requires the use of costly facilities and instruments. Instruments such as analyzers and microscopes can cost more than a pandemic-priced home, and renovations of laboratory spaces with high flexibility are the norm - all helping to push forward our knowledge and understanding of science and human health.

Within the walls of these growing laboratory spaces are not just million dollar instruments and flexible seating, but critical enclosures and hoods for life science that support scientists each day. At the core is the biosafety cabinet – a centerpiece of nearly any bioscience focused laboratory. As you consider biosafety cabinets for your laboratory, it is imperative to keep your long-term goals in mind, focus on sustainability, and maintain a level of flexibility that ensures product relevance for today’s challenges, and those 15 years from now.

Understanding the Science

By and large, the criteria for properly handling life science samples has not significantly changed for the last several decades. Cells, viruses, and other biologically significant structures are often fragile and may be easily contaminated - so they must be handled in a sterile environment. If samples are not protected, the worst enemy of a life science researcher is likely to occur: contamination. Even the slightest contamination of biological samples may create significant disruptions to a laboratory’s research focus, potentially ruining years of findings with one simple mistake.

To protect sensitive life science work, samples at risk for contamination are typically handled in laboratory hoods that produce High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered air into the hood’s internal working area. Enclosures that provide only clean HEPA filtered air are known as Laminar Flow Hoods or Clean Benches. Clean Benches provide a clean, sterile work area but offer no protection from hazardous samples and therefore have limited use. These enclosures are regularly used for simple non-hazardous work, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) experiments.

Because of the high interest in medically significant research, investigators often utilize human cells to model biochemical or physiological behaviors and to evaluate drug candidates in vitro at a fraction of the cost of in vivo testing. Human cells are biohazardous and pathogenic in nature and must be handled in a sterile enclosure that simultaneously contains hazards to protect researchers. The most common enclosure offering both Product and Personnel protection is the Class II Biosafety Cabinet.

Class II biosafety cabinets are the workbench of the life scientist. They are a safety device, a sterility device, and a benchtop all in one large stainless steel enclosure format. To provide user and sample protection, biosafety cabinets utilize an interior blower that draws air into the hood and purifies the air through HEPA filters before returning air to the work area of the hood, or back into the lab.

Because of the importance and prevalence of Class II biosafety cabinets in life science laboratories, recognizing the impact these products can have towards meeting sustainability goals, accelerating science, and providing flexibility as research changes will ensure your research is well-supported.

Sustainable Operation

For some laboratory hoods such as ducted chemical fume hoods, operating costs are quite extreme because of their requirement to exhaust tempered air from the research facility. Due to high costs associated with chemical fume hoods, many cost-saving means have been generated including: implementing high performance (low flow) models, reducing daily operating time where possible, installing intelligent exhaust control systems to limit air usage, or even ‘shut the sash’ energy efficiency campaigns with high density installations of fume hoods.

A clear challenge, operational efficiencies are not as obvious with biosafety cabinets. Biosafety cabinets typically recirculate their air back into the room, and this self-contained design consumes very little energy over the life of a cabinet. A typical non-ducted biosafety cabinet has zero impact to building HVAC costs. Operationally, a typical 4 foot biosafety cabinet consumes 200 watts, or 1.6 kWh in an 8 hour workday. Annually a BSC costs around $50 if operated every day for 8 hours/day – a minimal cost when compared to a fume hood, which may cost thousands of dollars to run per year.

But evaluating a biosafety cabinet’s sustainability contributions goes beyond baseline energy consumption figures. With operational costs for biosafety cabinets so low, sustainable operation can be recognized not in energy savings, but in reducing the wastefulness of the biosafety cabinet’s components and service requirements. Selecting biosafety cabinets with a cost-effective price point typically results in higher service intervals, with more frequent and costly HEPA filter replacements – a service that places a toxic sterilizing gas into the biosafety cabinet, generates biohazardous waste for incineration, and generates emissions from the visit of a servicer. These blind costs are difficult to record, yet directly impact the sustainability impact of a cabinet at a facility.


Research is constantly changing and growing, and with those changes come shifting needs and expectations from equipment in the lab. Biosafety cabinets are no exception. And as a safety device, biosafety cabinets have historically had limited flexibility. Ask any life science laboratory employee to identify a singular Class II biosafety cabinet for their laboratory and they may express frustration with the process.

Biosafety cabinets come in multiple configurations, depending on application. Common questions asked during the selection of a biosafety cabinet include: Class I or a Class II? What is the difference between Class II Type A2 and Type B2 BSCs? Do I need to vent my biosafety cabinet at all? Can I convert my cabinet between recirculating and ducted designs? The questions go on and on.

Today, biosafety cabinets are designed to last multiple decades. So the decision to purchase a biosafety cabinet is an exceptionally long-term commitment. Most researchers do not possess a crystal ball – fortunately there exists an easy choice: the Type C1 biosafety cabinet.

Class II, Type C1 BSCs provide all of the safety and comfort of a standard biosafety cabinet. Personnel and Product protection are provided. Furthermore, Type C1 BSCs are flexible and may be converted between recirculating A mode, and B mode – a configuration that allows for safe handling with chemical fumes used in adjunct to microbiological procedures. This flexibility eliminates frustration when purchasing a biosafety cabinet, because the Type C1 is suitable for any application a researcher may encounter over their time in the laboratory. For facilities personnel responsible for selecting biosafety cabinets, they can rest assured knowing that providing Type C1 BSCs to their scientific community will satisfy all research needs.

Planning for Automation

The prevalence of automation systems in laboratories, particularly liquid handlers that eliminate laborious bench tasks, is increasing exponentially due to decreases in cost and availability. With automation comes large instruments that carry out work previously performed by laboratory research associates, including work that is biohazardous in nature. The vast majority of automation systems are large and do not fit into standard biosafety cabinets, but larger automation-specific biosafety cabinets are available and must be factored into a facility’s overall ability to support advanced scientific discovery. Consulting with the automated instrument manufacturer, biosafety cabinet manufacturers, and your safety office will ensure seamless integration of these complicated devices within your facility.

Navigating Next Steps

Selecting biosafety cabinets requires careful planning prior to execution. With any safety product, engage your support network before rushing to purchase. Consult with your biosafety office for guidance, as they may have specific requirements or configuration recommendations for biosafety cabinets in your facility. Engage your in-house and vendor technical resources to understand all options available to you – including those that best fit your work. And most importantly, evaluate how your biosafety cabinet purchase will support your needs not only today, but during an important discovery in 15 years.

For more information on selecting biosafety cabinets, download our Beyond the Basics ebook.

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