Cambridge company Class 1 says it has solved a problem that has plagued hospital rooms for decades: what to do with used anaesthetic gas. 

"Health care contributes about eight per cent of greenhouse gases to the world," company president Barry Hunt said. "Some say up to 50 per cent of the carbon footprint of the operating rooms comes from the anaesthetic gases themselves," he added.

While it is essential to most major surgeries, only a small percentage–about 5 per cent–of anaesthetic gas is actually absorbed and metabolised by a patient's body. 

"It's exhaled back into the breathing circuit you've inhaled it from," said Hunt. "From there it goes through a hose into a hospital pipeline, through a vacuum pump and normally is just discharged through a pipe in the roof of the building."

The detrimental environmental effect of venting fluorocarbons into the air has been recognized for decades, Hunt pointed out, and they've long been removed from consumer products such as refrigerators. Their use as propellants in aerosol cans has also been banned. But they continue to be used in medical venues.

Potential to recycle gases in future

The company's emission capture technology, called Halogenated Drug Recovery (HDR), collects the gases, strips out the gas molecules and stores them. The company is looking for a way to recycle those gases in the future. 

"Our operating rooms support 7,600 surgical cases with general anaesthetic every year, and use 854 bottles of anaesthetic gases," said Malcolm Maxwell, president and CEO of Grand River Hospital, in a release Tuesday.

"Class 1's HDR system will reduce our carbon footprint by more than a thousand tonnes a year."

Hunt said his company hopes to roll the system out globally.

Stanford University Medical Centre has already signed on, and Hunt says he's had interest from a dozen or so Ontario hospitals that are interested in installing the product over the next year.