Top ten green medical devices

Although the medical device sector is still behind other industries in terms of 'going green', change is in the air. An increasing number of manufacturers are now beginning to make the shift towards sustainability, using innovative techniques to save energy and reduce environmental impact. Medical Device Developments editor Elly Earls profiles the ten most exciting 'green' medical products and initiatives on the market and under development.


1. FLEXBUMIN, Baxter

Field: Flexible packaging

Albumin is processed from human plasma and is a treatment for critically ill patients that works by replacing lost fluid and maintaining adequate blood volume and pressure.

This substance is typically packaged in glass bottles (such as Baxter's BUMINATE), but the company has also created FLEXBUMIN, the first albumin available in a flexible, light, plastic container called GALAXY.

The GALAXY container is a four-layer system that helps to maintain albumin quality, and is validated for storage and use in frozen settings and at room temperature. It also provides strength, inertness and a water vapour barrier.

The FLEXBUMIN container system is the first and only medical product in the world to receive the Carbon Trust label, a testament to its environmental credentials. Its carbon footprint is 55–77% smaller than BUMINATE because it is less material-intensive (the plastic container weighs 88–90% less than the glass bottles used for the 50ml and 100ml products), it requires less energy to manufacture and is less carbon-intensive to transport.

The smaller mass of FLEXBUMIN also leads to less waste for customers after the albumin has been infused. In the US market, this decreases disposal fees by up to 90%, saving 3–5 cents per unit when autoclaving and 6–9 cents per unit when using incineration.

2. Green Series Medical Exam Lights, Welch Allyn

"Welch Allyn became one of the first medical device companies to join the US Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR Partnership."

Field: Energy-efficient lighting

Welch Allyn's Green Series Medical Exam Lights are among the first medical exam lights available in the US to feature energy efficient, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of halogen lamps. They do not require bulb replacement and produce bright, white light with a colour temperature of 5,500°K and 50,000 hours of life.

The range includes: GS Exam Light IV, designed for the OB/GYN office, providing three times the typical light output and a flexible light pipe; GS 300 General Exam Light, combining intense light output and cool operation in a compact design for in-office exams; GS 600 Minor Procedure Exam Light, featuring three LEDs and a wider head, designed for minor procedures and exams; and GS 900 Procedure Light, featuring six LEDs and combining durability, manoeuvrability and several mounting options.

"Our new suite of medical exam lights are designed to fit any healthcare environment from OB/GYN offices to ambulatory care facilities," said Tracy Bennett, US / CAN regional category manager at Welch Allyn. “They give enhanced visualisation of the exam area using brighter, whiter light, and the energy efficiency of the LED technology provides a lower cost of ownership.”

Welch Allyn recently became one of the first medical device companies to join the US Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR Partnership, proving the company's commitment to enhancing energy efficiency and sustainability.

3. Somatom Definition Flash CT scanner, Siemens

Field: Medical imaging

The Somatom Definition Flash CT scanner, a dual-source CT featuring two X-ray tubes that simultaneously revolve around the patient's body, requires only a fraction of the radiation dose that systems previously needed to scan even the smallest anatomical details.

During a thorax examination, it uses on average 45% less energy than its predecessor, the Somatom Definition, while the corresponding saving on a cardiac examination amounts to 85%. The system offers the highest speeds and lowest radiation levels of any CT scanner currently on the market. A cardiac scan, for example, can be performed with less than one millisievert (mSv), while the average effective dose for this procedure generally amounts to 8–20mSv. In addition, the lead usually required in the counterweights that balance the rotating parts of CT machines are not necessary with the Somatom Definition Flash.

This is because the device no longer needs counterweights, as new construction techniques have reduced the out-of-balance forces and the remaining imbalances are compensated for by using steel as a material.

Since 2006 Siemens Healthcare has operated a globally uniform EHS (Environment, Health & Safety) management system, and the company now has 11 products in its environmental portfolio.

4. Battery-free EEG system, imec

Field: Wireless technology

In 2008 nanoelectronics research centre imec, in partnership with the Holst Centre, an independent open innovation R&D centre, developed a battery-free, wireless, two-channel EEG-system, essentially driven by body heat and light.

Powered by a hybrid power supply, it contains a thermoelectric generator that is able to use the heat dissipated from a person's temples and silicon photovoltaic cells. The power supply can provide more than 1MW on average indoors, more than enough for the EEG system to operate.

The system, which is still at the forefront of sustainable medical technology, is integrated into a device resembling headphones and uses imec's proprietary ultra-low-power biopotential readout application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to extract high-quality EEG signals with micropower consumption.

A low-power digital signal processing block encodes the extracted EEG data, which is sent to a PC via a 2.4GHz wireless radio link. The whole EEG-system consumes only 0.8MW, well below the power produced by the integrated hybrid power supply.

Potential applications of the technology include monitoring patients' brain waves after a head injury and detecting certain kinds of brain trauma.

5. MammoDiagnost DR, Philips

Field: Medical imaging

The new MammoDiagnost DR digital radiography system is designed to support high-volume screening and meets the workflow challenges of hospitals and healthcare centres, as well as mobile screening programmes in rural communities.

"MammoDiagnost results in less energy consumption for the customer, no silver pollution of wastewater and no consumption of harmful chemicals for film processing."

The device's design simplifies image acquisition, while the image provided is of excellent quality due to the use of UNIQUE, UNified Image QUality Enhancement software.

As the digital system is built to DICOM and IHE standards, it can also be integrated into the hospital's electronic workflow, making paperless patient registration and diagnosis possible. The generator is integrated into the gantry and its user interface is located at the console of the Eleva acquisition work spot. Not only does this simplify the workflow, it also helps to save energy, packaging and space in the hospital.

Environmental compatibility is largely achieved due to the replacement of films with digital technology, resulting in less energy consumption for the customer, no drinking water for film processing, no silver pollution of waste water and no consumption of chemicals for film processing.

Compared to its predecessor, the analogue MammoDiagnost, environmental benefits of this product include a 46% reduction in energy use, a 13% reduction in product weight, 11% less packaging, a 20% radiation dose reduction and a 24% improvement in the product's total environmental impact.

This product is not commercially available in North America.

6. Syreen pre-filled syringe, Cambridge Consultants

Field: Drug delivery

Designed by Cambridge Consultants, Syreen is a novel pre-filled syringe concept that has been designed with sustainability, as well as patient safety and support, in mind. Made from an amorphous polymer plastic, cyclic olefin polymer (COP), rather than glass, the design acts as both the primary drug container for an injection and the secondary packaging. The syringes clip together, so the need for secondary packaging such as cardboard and Styrofoam that is required for traditional syringes has been eradicated.

By using recyclable materials and providing a much more compact packaging solution, the Syreen design cuts average syringe packaging volume in half and reduces weight by 30%, potentially saving the industry millions of pounds.

The concept behind Syreen is to offer a sustainable alternative to the status quo and introduce a paradigm shift in the existing supply chain, said Phil Lever, commercial director, drug delivery devices for Cambridge Consultants. Typical glass syringes use a range of materials from all over the world, and shipping costs are egregious due to inefficiencies in the packaging; Syreen demonstrates that innovative design can marry economy and ecology to offer competitive benefits to medical device companies.

7. Neptune 2 waste management system, Stryker

Field: Waste disposal

Sustainability is a key priority for Stryker; as the healthcare industry has one of the largest environmental footprints, Stryker believes that medical technology offers a unique opportunity to support provider efficiency and reduce waste. As a result, the company has developed a variety of green healthcare initiatives. One of Stryker's green products is the efficient, self-contained Neptune 2 waste management system. The system has a dual-canister design, limiting both the need for supplemental containers and to use and repeatedly clean waste containers.

It also reduces the amount of time healthcare workers spend managing waste. Constructed of environmentally preferred Polypropylene #5 plastic, Neptune's 1.6oz disposable manifold reduces the volume of waste; it takes 77 manifolds to equal one full 3l canister in a landfill. The system also reduces risks to healthcare workers by virtually eliminating harmful exposure to fluids and smoke in the operating room.

As a totally closed, all-in-one unit it collects and disposes of surgical waste, which prevents contact with infectious fluids and surgical plume, and protects staff from splash exposure.

8. 'Green' lighting initiative, Fresenius

Field: Energy-efficient lighting

Located in the north-east of Germany's Saarland, Fresenius Medical Care's production facility in St Wendel has been designated a 'GreenLight' Partner by the European Commission, an award that acknowledges the plant's environmental efforts. From 2006–09, the St Wendel location retrofitted 70% of the conventional lamps in all of its production facilities, replacing them with more energy efficient lights.

"The 'GreenLight' campaign is an ongoing voluntary initiative that promotes energy saving and more environmentally friendly lighting."

The modification resulted in a 42% reduction in electric power consumption, accounting for nearly €270,000 in annual energy savings. By retrofitting the lighting fixtures at its St Wendel location, Fresenius Medical Care is also contributing toward a reduction of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

The 'GreenLight' campaign is an ongoing voluntary initiative that promotes energy saving and more environmentally friendly lighting. Launched in February 2000, it is now in effect in 26 European countries, including Switzerland and Norway. Under the 'GreenLight' programme, participating companies pledge to modernise their existing conventional lighting and improve the level of energy efficiency, provided that these measures are cost efficient. Overall, a 30% minimum reduction in total lighting-related electric power consumption must be achieved.

9. Optima MR360, GE

Field: Medical imaging

GE's ecomagination programme is an innovative business initiative that aims to help meet customers' demands for more energy efficient, 'green' products. Firmly among these is the Optima MR360. One of the most energy efficient 1.5T MR systems available, the device uses about 34% less energy than the company's previous generation systems.

By employing efficient gradient and electronics design in conjunction with innovative water-cooling technology, the Optima MR360 is able to reduce annual electricity use by about 60,000kW/h, which can save over €5,700 a year in Europe under normal operating conditions, at an electricity rate of 0.10 euro/kW/h – in real terms this represents the electricity consumption of about 12 households in the European Union.

Engineered with a sophisticated magnet technology that prevents cryogen boil-off, the Optima MR360 can also help reduce the cost of replacing liquid helium by at least €1,300 annually at typical cryogen prices in Europe, compared with systems without the technology.

Optima is a registered trademark of the General Electric Company.

10. Ozone steriliser, Ortosintese

Field: Sterilisation

Developed in collaboration with the Brasil Ozônio Industry, located in the University of São Paulo, and the Brazilian Incubator of Technological Projects, Ortosintese's ozone steriliser is a complete system for low-temperature sterilisation. It produces zero toxic waste and is classified by the company as '100% ecologically friendly'.

The novel device uses ozone as a sterilising agent for several reasons: it is ideal for thermo-sensitive materials; it is highly effective in reducing microbial load; and it is proven to be 100 times more effective than chlorine.

As its only input is oxygen, a small amount of H2O is the sole residue produced by the system, so there are no waste products involved that require special handling, storage or disposal. Moreover, the machine uses only minimal power consumption.

Based in São Paulo in Brazil, Ortosintese, a manufacturer of hospital equipment and orthopaedic implants, also showcases its strong commitment to sustainability throughout its production processes by recycling paper machine oil, plastic, acids and batteries.

Ortosintese's ozone steriliser is still undergoing testing and is not yet on sale.