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The art of air management

Benwen Lopez looks at the technological strides shaping air treatment and air movement in the built-environment in the GCC region

| | Feb 16, 2018 | 8:01 am
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It is a given that an effective air treatment and air movement regime needs to be established and maintained across a building’s lifecycle to ensure occupants can breathe clean air.

As S B Bharath Babu, Business Development Manager, Mekar Air Handling Units, says: “Indoor air quality (IAQ) has become an essential factor, owing to our fast-paced lifestyle and need for efficiency. The core principle of IAQ is to live a healthy lifestyle and to improve our efficiency.” To continuously breathe the same air in a room, he says, affects the health of a person drastically, and increases the risk of becoming fatigued.

Sharing similar views on the state of IAQ, Matthias Kasprowicz, Regional Managing Director, TROX Middle East, adds: “The importance of IAQ is slowly gaining momentum, and although people realise the importance of clean air and comfort, awareness has yet to grow. Even consultants and contractors are in the process of acquiring knowledge on IAQ, so we are still far away from reaching our goals.”

However, Kasprowicz believes that the problem is not with awareness alone, but also owing to bad engineering choices. “This is not only about clean air, but this is also about the architectural design of the air conditioning system,” he says. “We have scenarios, where cold air is blown in the face of the occupants, and the next day they fall sick [owing to bad engineering design choices].”

Considering the bad effects of poor IAQ, Kasprowicz insists that manufacturers do have a role in increasing awareness among end-users to help them decide on the level of quality of air conditioning and ventilation systems to support good IAQ in the built-environment.

Maintaining IAQ is an issue across the world, but there are particular challenges here in the Middle East that make those challenges even more difficult. David O’Riley, Managing Partner, Britannia International, believes as elsewhere in the world, the onus is as much on catalytic agents, like government agencies, to ensure that buildings comply with IAQ standards.

“While Dubai and Abu Dhabi have published IAQ standards a few years ago, they have yet to make them mandatory,” he says. “Regulations without enforcement are just words written on a piece of paper.” Therefore, he insists, it is imperative for governments to take a more proactive role by enforcing the current IAQ regulations, along with substantial penalties for building owners and operators, who repeatedly ignore air quality standards. Ultimately, it’s innocent people, who will pay the price if the situation continues to be ignored.

He raises another important issue, namely the frequency of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) testing. “What is the point of implementing a system, where the IEQ only has to comply on the day of the test?” he asks. “Given the unfriendly environmental conditions in this part of the world, such as particulate content, temperature and humidity, coupled with the percentage of time people are confined within a building, I think there is a powerful argument for leading the world with a requirement for continuous testing.”

To implement such a strategy, O’Riley suggests that government agencies could consider adopting a phased approach. For example, in the first year, buildings should be tested every six months. In the second year, they ought to be tested every three months. And in the third year, they should be tested once a month, and by the fifth year, they should be continuously monitored.

Initially tests should be carried out by a third-party laboratory, with the results being published on a government website, so that everyone is aware of what is going on in the building. Eventually, the continuous monitoring results would be available in real-time online.

Based on the findings, building owners must decide how to address the problem, with the municipal authorities monitoring their progress. “The responsibility for meeting the standards and ensuring they are maintained must rest with the owner or operator of the building, but governments have to drive the IAQ regulations, because if it is left to the individual property owners, they are unlikely to do anything, because it costs money” he says.

Pointing to Europe and the United States, where IAQ is tested under a system that involves punitive measures, O’Riley says building owners are given sufficient warning to address IAQ issues, and if they fail to comply within the specified deadline the authorities can order the shutdown of the building.

Innovating towards better IAQ

Good IAQ demands innovation, and generally speaking, the industry has made significant strides towards enhancing the airside systems, with the baseline being enhancing the indoor air quality.

For instance, to hands-on tackle dust, allergens, odours, mould and other organisms, Lamis Harib, Marketing Director and Partner, Ecabiotec Middle East Manufacturing, says her company has developed a solution, Anosan Eco, which ruptures the inner and outer membrane of all unicellular germs, including bacteria, viruses, unicellular fungi and spores.

The solution also suppresses dust, allergens and odours. The active property in the solution is a stable charge in the product, high oxidation, stabilised in 99% activated water, and can be used in multiple applications, such as warehouses, homes and even in vehicles.

Harib further adds: “The solution by itself is a high-grade disinfectant and deodoriser, which is safe to inhale and leaves no residue. The product line has been tested according to the highest EN and DIN certifications and the German Society for Hygiene and Microbiology.”

On the acceptance of the solution, Harib says that owing to the freshness in the market, the acceptance is apprehensible, but with third-party testing of the product being done, it helps in clearing the doubts of the end-user.

Sharing some of the technological strides made by Mekar Air Handling Units, Babu says: “We are focussed on improving the air that comes from outside of the building, and we want to ensure that the air is treated properly through good construction practices of air handling units (AHUs), fresh- air-handling units (FAHUs] and fan-coil units.”

He further adds that considering the challenge of space in buildings, Mekar is developing ceiling-suspended units, which would be beneficial for smaller enclosures.

For stakeholders like Trosten, it’s about offering a combination unit of AHUs and heat recovery units (HRPs), which was launched in 2017, says Lubna Mulla, Business Development Manager, Trosten Industries Company.

Highlighting how her company has been innovating with components for the AHUs, Mulla adds: “We have also come up with the Fan-Matrix system for AHUs, a solution designed specifically for critical applications, such as hospitals and data centres. The solution addresses redundancy, avoids breakdowns of the system, maintains higher energy efficiencies and is silent from an acoustical perspective.”

Further explaining the Fan-Matrix system, Mulla says, the system comprises direct-driven plug multiple fans, arranged in matrix with built-in variable- frequency drives and IE3 motors. “In case if one fan fails, the other fans ramp up automatically to deliver the designed air-flow rate by picking up the signal from the built-in controllers. These fans are compact, easy to install or replace, and are useful, especially in retrofit projects.”

A key challenge for AHUs is the air filtration component, explains Brain Suggitt, Managing Director, Systemair Middle East. “Good IAQ demands a specified type of filtration,” he says, “After that, it is about maintenance and changing of the filters on a definitive periodical basis.” Highlighting a challenge in this area, he adds, you often find end-users using the wrong type of filters. Therefore, the filtration system needs to be pre-determined or pre-designed.

From an air movement perspective, the solutions offered by Trox Middle East are their X-Fans, says Kasprowicz. “The X Fans are part of our solution, for not just air movement but also fire safety,” he says, “The fans prevent the flames from spreading and push the air into an area to create an escape route for survivors.” He further explains that the fans are easy to install, have low operating and maintenance costs and protect the building envelope from any leakage. The volume flow rates of the fans exceed 100,000 m3/h, he adds.

Key challenges

Challenges prevail in any sector, and effectively manoeuvring through them is what sets the good solutions providers apart from the mediocre ones. Speaking on the challenges that cause bottlenecks for good IAQ practices, O’Riley adds that the problem of bad IAQ, particularly in existing buildings, is accentuated, because the commissioning of the AC system in this part of the world usually is done under the auspices of the main contractor. “A commissioning agent is hardly likely to criticise the company that is paying for its services, so the appointment of commissioning engineers should always be carried out by the project’s Lead consultancy, so that it protects the interests of the developer not the contractor,” he says.

Highlighting another problem, Kasprowicz says: “Quality appreciation is a key challenge. We are in a market where wealth is tangible, and almost everything has a huge market value. Unfortunately, whatever is beneath the surface is of inferior quality.”

Further elaborating on the challenge of quality appreciation, he adds that owing to the misuse of the term ‘value engineering’, quality is disregarded, and inferior quality equipment is procured to reduce the costs.

Sharing a similar view, Mulla says, although Expo 2020 is driving up the momentum, the only concern is that value engineering drives most of the projects. “Owing to value engineering, either the specifications are relaxed or too many entrants are allowed outside the approved vendor list, which makes it a tough situation for all the established manufacturers.”

She further adds, “For value-engineered projects, we work on very lean margins, considering the contractors need to pass on the cost savings to their clients.”

IAQ is a crucial factor towards achieving good health and a high level of productivity. The industry is offering an array of technologies to improve air treatment and air distribution. It is up to the end-user to take advantage of, and implement, the technologies available to present the ideal IAQ scenario in buildings across the region.


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