Enhancing sustainability and efficiency in the built environment

Published on November 1, 2023

Industry experts have urged the implementation of measures to address refrigerant leaks in air-conditioning systems and the mandatory installation of indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors to enhance the sustainability and efficiency of the built environment in the UAE.

Marco Buoni, Managing Director of Centro Studi Galileo (CSG), an Italian training centre, and Iyad Al-Attar, a consultant specialised in indoor air quality and air filtration and a lecturer at several universities and institutes, spoke to Zawya Projects during the launch of HVACR Leadership Academy in Dubai by industry body Eurovent Middle East in October.

The Climate Group has noted that 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. In the UAE, up to 70 percent of buildings’ energy consumption goes to cooling and ventilation, leading to an overall consumption of more than 50 percent. 

Studies have estimated that 25 percent of energy savings can be achieved through simple preventive maintenance, 15 percent through better installation and 20 percent through better operations of HVACR (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, cooling, and refrigeration) equipment.

Regular air-conditioning and refrigeration systems are designed to work properly for 20 years without maintenance, with just one percent leakage. 

“This can be plugged by training HVACR technicians to install, maintain and periodically check the system properly,” he said.

Buoni also underscored the risks posed by the leakage of refrigerants, noting that they have higher Global Warming Potential (GWP) compared to CO2 emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each kilogramme of leaked refrigerant results in the emission of more than 2,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Thus, an average-sized supermarket’s air conditioning system consumes approximately 100kg of refrigerants annually. A leakage rate of 10 percent means the release of at least 10kg of refrigerants into the atmosphere. 

“This calls for implementing F-gas regulation, which restricts the use of refrigerants with a GWP value of more than 2,500. This includes the R-404A refrigerant used in refrigeration dryers,” said Buoni.

The F-gas regulation requires checking for refrigerant leaks and periodic checking of the system. It also stipulates mandatory certification and training of technicians.  

However, except for Bahrain, the regulation has yet to be implemented elsewhere in the Middle East, he said.

The CSG executive said that new environment-friendly refrigerants or less polluting ones like propane are available for retrofitting and new systems.

Buoni said COP28 in Dubai will host an exclusive pavilion for cooling, and it is hoped that the stakeholders will express their willingness for the UAE to ratify the Kigali amendment as soon as possible to reduce the pollutant refrigerants. 

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is an international agreement to gradually reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent GHGs widely used in refrigeration, air-conditioning and other industrial applications.

Though the UAE was a signatory to the amendment, the country has yet to ratify it. UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri had said that the UAE hopes to work to speed up the ratification process along with the other GCC nations.

Air quality

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) expert Iyad Al-Attar emphasised the importance of installing air quality sensors in all buildings due to the deteriorating air quality.

“IAQ measurement systems should be mandatory, as air quality should be by design and not by demand. Installing air quality measuring systems should be made compulsory for schools and public buildings,” he said. 

He advised school management to invest in better IAQ sensing systems and filters to charge premium fees legitimately. 

Civic authorities should insist on installing IAQ monitoring systems by providing incentives. 

“Municipalities should institute an award for buildings with the best indoor air quality monitoring system,” he suggested.

The IAQ expert also suggested that governments could look at providing subsidies and interest-free loans for equipping buildings with air quality measuring systems.

“The benefits are indirect, that is, there will be less absenteeism in schools and offices and fewer hospitalisations when students, teachers and employees do not fall sick in a polluted environment,” he said.

He also suggested a measuring mechanism that not only measures solid particulate matter but also gaseous pollutants like ammonia, NOx (nitrogen oxides) and SOx (sulphur oxides).

He concluded that air quality should be an integral part of discussions on heating, ventilation and air conditioning system selection and human occupancy of new buildings.

“Air filtration now is available at a lower energy usage so that I can have high efficiency at a much lower energy usage than five, ten and 20 years ago. So we have what it takes. What remains is to position what we possess regarding technologies and innovation.” 

Source: Zawya Projects, (Reporting by Bhaskar Raj; Editing by Anoop Menon)