CO2 Incubators

Incubators are among the most basic pieces of laboratory equipment and are installed in most laboratories. They maintain an isolated, controlled environment for in vitro studies or for growing biological samples. Although incubators perform a seemingly simple function, their features have become more reliable and sophisticated. There are a myriad of incubators available, each with a variety of features to choose from, including shaking, portability and sterilization. Some are made for specific applications while others are used across all industries.

CO2 incubators, which are the most common type of incubators, are used primarily for cell culture applications, which demand the highest sophistication in control and design. These incubators allow researchers to accurately control the concentration of CO2 and oxygen, humidity levels and temperature, in addition to other variables.

CO2 incubators either use air or water as insulation. Water-jacketed incubators are considered more reliable and protect against fluctuations in ambient temperature and power. Air-jacketed incubators require less maintenance and are typically larger in size. The CO2 level in an incubator is monitored using an infrared or thermal conductivity system. Infrared systems are the most accurate because they employ an optical sensor, but are also more expensive. Standard on most CO2 incubators are microprocessor controls for user-friendliness, HEPA filters to reduce contamination and humidity pans or reservoirs to prevent desiccation. Other choices available are benchtop and floor-standing models, single and dual chambers, and stackable or independent control models.

A recent advancement in CO2 incubators is the use of copper interiors for added protection against contamination. Instead of stainless steel, a copper chamber is used due to copper’s natural properties that prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Thermo Fisher Scientific offers three products (the Forma 310 series and the Heraeus HERAcell 150 and 240) that can be equipped with this feature.

Another method used to minimize the risk of contamination is a fanless incubator. On a standard air- or water-jacketed incubator, the fan is used to ensure that chamber conditions such as temperature, humidity and CO2 levels are uniformly distributed. But the fan can be a source of contamination if not properly cleaned and maintained. New Brunswick offers a CO2 incubator that uses a fanless, direct-heat system that operates by thermodynamic convection through the chamber walls. A fanless incubator offers time and cost-saving advantages such as faster cleaning protocols and no HEPA filter requirement.

The CO2 incubator market accounts for over half of total incubator sales, generating revenues of more than $100 million annually. Market growth should be strong over the next few years, driven by upgrades to systems with anticontamination features. such as copper chambers and fanless, direct-heat systems.

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