Opinion: How can we improve air quality while reducing emissions and energy costs?

Khansaheb Industries Director, Abdulrahman Khansaheb, examines the trade-off between clean air and reduced energy usage, and shares how he believes we can reconcile these two ambitions.

As any building manager will tell you, to improve air quality in commercial buildings, you usually need run your ventilation system ever harder, dramatically increasing energy usage and the building’s carbon footprint. Yet, as we exit from the Covid-19 pandemic, our concerns for air quality remain at an all-time high. Air quality is ranked among the “most important considerations in almost every country” as the world enters the post-pandemic recovery phase. Poor air quality has been found to not only lead to respiratory illnesses, but also a decline in workplace productivity.

To tackle these issues, the UK Government has outlined its intention of annually reducing the level of public exposure to “delicate particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air”. Exposure to low air quality has a significant impact on children’s mental health and psychiatric disorders, with schools and colleges suffering low attendance and student performance levels due to poor building ventilation. Likewise, employees have also voiced their concerns about air quality when asked to return to in-person work.

Contaminated airflow can also have consequences for building features, such as contaminating sensitive electronics equipment stored within a building. Moreover, duct systems that help to ventilate a building succumb to external pressure and air leakages, contributing to energy losses.

To address this, building managers often increase their building’s energy consumption, sometimes leading to approximately 40% of its total energy usage. A study by the US Department of Energy revealed how commercial real estate produces 16% of US carbon emissions while consuming a 35% share of US electricity.

This has a simultaneously adverse environmental impact, reducing energy efficiency, and producing a larger carbon footprint. Furthermore, at a time of record global energy prices, it can also push up energy costs dramatically.

Can we have both?

Building managers must now address this trade-off; whether to improve a building’s air quality or improve a building’s energy efficiency.

To manage air quality, building managers often use the HVAC – Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning – approach. HVAC works by ventilating the building with outside air, which will typically vary in quality dependent on weather conditions.

Additionally, building occupants will often manage the temperature level to either heat or cool external air entering the building, particularly in winter, naturally increasing the building’s energy consumption.

white and gray box fan

Despite the challenge, improving a building’s energy efficiency while also improving its air quality is feasible, particularly given the role of cryogenic laminate non-metallic ductwork. This laminate ductwork maximises air movement at a cost-effective and sustainable ventilation level. Studies have identified the benefits of implementing a proper building ventilation strategy. Workplace productivity is proportionate to the building space’s air quality by over £5,000 per person per year. In other words, the better the air, the better the work.

For example, cryogenic laminate non-metallic ductwork improves a building’s energy efficiency by up to 48% in high pressure systems with better airflow, improved insulation, and a drastic reduction of leakage (less than 1%) from the ventilation system, reducing energy consumption while significantly improving air quality.

Moreover, cryogenic laminate non-metallic ductwork, like Khansaheb Industries Spiralite, offers optimal sustainability over the lifetime of its installation as it can be assembled on-site, cutting transport emissions by 85% in the process. This results in savings in greenhouse gas during manufacture and installation, substantially reducing the building’s carbon footprint by 67% compared to a traditional building’s steel ductwork.

These significant energy savings improve ESG performance and enable building owners to meet the UK PM2.5 targets. It can also significantly reduce energy costs.

Options do exist to address air quality issues without negatively impacting a building’s energy efficiency and carbon footprint. Upgrading outdated HVAC systems remains key. Otherwise, employees, and our collective sustainability efforts, will forever remain at risk.

Photo by Carlos Lindner


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1 year ago

One thing we must not do is burn more wood. Cheaper I know but it makes too much fine particulate matter which is very unhealthy even in small amounts if you or your neighbours inhale it every day. I read the new ecostoves emit about 80% less PM than stoves made 10 years ago which sounds good but that assessment was made in a factory laboratory not the real world. In reality any old rubbish can and will be burned as well as wet wood. Suppose someone replaces their old stove this winter with two new ecostoves and at the same time a few more are installed on the same street in homes that didn’t even have wood burning before, then that would take us back to square one? The level of PM10 and PM2.5 would end up the same, possibly worse, especially if the old stove is sold on to someone else. Therse old stoves ahve not been banned, have they? How many wood stoves are there now in the UK? I am concerned there will be more this winter owing to the gas and oil prices going so high. Not eveeryone can afford electric heating, in fact very few can. The article here seems to be about new-builds. Most of us live in older houses. Without air purifiers, ventilation systems are only as good as the air outside. Can we afford all this modernisation?

1 year ago

Wouldn’t cost much to ban bonfires in the UK and tell the public how to compost garden waste.Wouldn’t cost much, if anything, to ban idling engines outside schools and surgeries. But might cost plenty to help UK homeowners with insulation work and to instal heat pumps instead of wood stoves or gas / oil CH.Office and home ventilaiton sounds good until you find your neighbour is making lots of air pollution. Stopping the pollution at source seems the obvious way forward to me. Which means legislation and more power to local authorities to enforce. I’m not sure more machinery / tech solutions is the way forward.

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