UCL Energy Institute


Study into mitigating effects of higher CO2 levels on productivity receives widespread coverage

14 December 2018

A paper published by academics from the UCL Energy Institute looked at how increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere could affect human cognitive performance, how building ventilation systems might mitigate this, and the likely cost and energy implications.

White building ventilation funnels - Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The paper, published in July 2018 in the Building Services Engineering Research and Technology journal, is entitled “Possible future impacts of elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 on human cognitive performance and on the design and operation of ventilation systems in buildings”. Its authors are Prof Robert Lowe, Dr Gesche Huebner and Prof Tadj Oreszczyn, all from the UCL Energy Institute at The Bartlett.

Using projections from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) about the likely rise in concentrations of atmospheric CO2 by the end of the century, the researchers examined what the effect on air quality might be for indoor workers, given that CO2 levels tend to be higher indoors. 

The authors found that, overall, half of all studies found a decline in cognitive performance when levels of CO2 were increased. Given that a significant rise in CO2 levels is expected due to continued greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, it will be necessary for building engineers to find ways of reducing indoor CO2 levels over and above the existing requirements for ventilation, which in itself has implications for energy use in buildings.

In summarising their findings, the authors report that actions to mitigate the rise in indoor CO2 levels "are likely to result in significant indirect impacts on the engineering of ventilation systems and associated energy use in all enclosed spaces".

This means that relatively simple incremental changes to building services engineering practice will be able to offset increases in atmospheric background CO2 concentration in the short-to-medium term. However, by the end of the century, on a business-as-usual projection of global CO2 emissions, it will become impossible to maintain current limits on indoor CO2 concentration without resorting to significantly more expensive approaches, such as CO2 removal.

Read the original paper online

Media coverage

The paper's findings have featured in numerous publications, as well as on Radio 4's Broadcasting House (44 minutes in) on Sunday 9 December. 

Image: Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash