Report suggests cleanroom conversion to tackle wet-lab shortage

October 22, 2004

By hammersmith

A report issued by the Office of Economic Affairs at Arizona State University recommends conversion of vacant “cleanrooms” previously used by the semiconductor industry to help resolve the metro Phoenix area’s shortage of wet-lab space, a critical need in the development of Arizona’s biosciences industry.

The report cited cleanroom conversion as a less expensive and faster alternative to the construction of new facilities. It also identified more than 1.4 million square feet of potential space through an inventory of major sites throughout the Valley.

Wet labs, equipped with sinks, ventilation systems, and other specialized features, are used by researchers at universities, nonprofit research institutes, and biotech firms.

“The report uncovers a hidden asset that Phoenix has to develop its bioscience industry,” said Keith Aspinall, an analyst with the Office of Economic Affairs who co-authored the report with Rick Buss, city manager for the City of Maricopa. “The inventory of cleanroom space illustrates the amount of space that is available and that there is a viable way for Phoenix to increase its supply of lab space for biotech users.”

In a 2002 study, Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, the Battelle Memorial Institute cited the lack of wet-lab space as one of Arizona’s most pressing issues in developing its bioscience industry. It concluded that nearly 450,000 square feet of additional space was needed to sufficiently support an additional $100 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, an essential step to raise Arizona to national competitiveness.

A Roadmap workgroup of industry professionals studying facilities-related issues called for an inventory of wet-lab space, leading to the ASU study and report, titled “Positioning Arizona as a Bioscience Leader: Leveraging Greater Phoenix Assets to Help Meet Bioscience Facility Demand.”

According to the report, space left over from the contracted microelectronics industry is suitable for conversion to wet labs, as the two types of workspace share many structural and engineering components. It is also cost effective. Whereas new lab facilities can take up to three years from design to occupancy and cost upwards of $350 a square foot, conversion can be done in months and cost under $200 a square foot.

“The report is a valuable addition to efforts to grow the local biotech industry,” said Saundra Johnson, Associate Director of Public Programs for the Flinn Foundation, which staffs the Roadmap workgroup. “The lab space that is under construction at ASU and for TGen, for example, is critical for developing the bioscience industry, but it is just as important to have space available for commercial ventures.”

Some of the major known cleanroom spaces under consideration for these conversions are the Intel, Innovex, and Novellus, manufacturing structures in Chandler; the Research Technology Center at the ASU Research Park in Tempe; and the ASU Flexible Display Industry in Tempe, which was originally designed for Motorola research and development on flat-panel technology.

The report also inventoried more than 300,000 square feet of wet-lab space that is currently available or under development. The vast majority is accounted for by the Chaparral Bio-medical Campus being built by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, slated to open near Loop 101 and Shea Boulevard in early 2006.

Buss, who conceived the idea for the research and inventory as a solution to the need for space, developed the research plan while working as a graduate associate in ASU’s Office of Economic Affairs.

For more information:

Report: “Positioning Arizona as a Bioscience Leader”

From ‘clean room’ space to ‘wet lab’,” Arizona Daily Star, 10/28/04

Chandler biotech windfall possible,” Arizona Republic, 10/19/04

Clean switch: Chipmaker sites ideal for biotech,” Arizona Republic, 10/15/04

Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Facilities Workgroup