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Green facade system for indoor air purification

Conference Paper · October 2017


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Hooman Parhizkar Roham Afghani Khoraskani

University of Oregon Shahid Beheshti University


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Green façade system for indoor air purification

Hooman Parhizkar, Roham Afghani Khoraskani, Mansoureh Tahbaz

Faculty of architecture and urban planning, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran

Air pollution has become a serious problem for people living in crowded cities. Increasing percentage of CO2
results in lessening of air quality and environmental comfort. Strong photosynthetic CO2 -absorption and O2-
releasing capacity of Azolla and other positive aspects of this algae has made it a strong candidate for
developing the idea of incorporating plants in building facade systems, to purify the air.
In this research a facade system has been developed using Azolla as a natural air filter to absorb exhaust air
gases and also provide fresh air for indoor spaces.
Analysis is done on the system in two phases: First to determine the CO2 reduction capacity of indoor air
and its subsequent effect on the mechanical ventilation, and second a CFD analysis to demonstrate and
evaluate the air flow and its circulation within the system. Results show that using 10 ݉ଶ of azolla in façade
cavity will decrease 25% of total ventilation requirement for an office area with two occupants. . In addition to
lower energy consumption, this facade contributes the aesthetic aspects of architectural design and leads
architecture to make a synthesis of urbanism and nature.
Keywords: sustainability, natural ventilation, Indoor air quality, air purification, green façade, indoor plants

1. Introduction
1.1 Indoor air quality
Citizens spend most of their time inside buildings, hence indoors pollution continuously constitutes an
additional risk factor in the development of several pathologies (Cecchi, 2014). The predominant indoor
gaseous contaminant is carbon dioxide, which is emitted every time we exhale. Background atmospheric
CO2 levels are currently about 400 ppm, while exhaled air is roughly 100 times higher (i.e., 40 000 ppm)
(Dixon, 2011). It is not hard to see why CO2 levels can quickly rise in tightly sealed, high-occupancy
environments. Since elevated CO2 concentrations have been linked with drowsiness and reduced
productivity (Seppänen, 2006), most government regulations stipulate maximum allowable
CO2 concentrations of less than 1000 ppm higher than background levels (62, 1999)
Studies have shown that CO2 concentration of indoor air, indicates an index which can be used to estimate
expected levels of occupant comfort in terms of human body odour, studying occupancy patterns,
investigating the levels of contaminants that are related to occupant activity, and screening for the sufficiency
of ventilation rates relative to occupancy (D6245, 2007).
As a studying case, A very high number (119) of school airborne VOCs and, for the very first time, SVOCs
have been screened, speciated and identified. These pollutants may have both an indoor and an outdoor
origin. Many of them have indoor sources (human activities, personal care products, cleaning products, inks,
adhesives, school objects, furniture architectural finishes and others), and the most effective way to reduce
exposure is to eliminate their origins. Ventilation can prevent excess indoor exposure to pollutants only if the
outdoor pollutant levels are low (Cecchi, 2014), however world's air pollutant substances like CO2 are

Volatile organic compound, a common term in modern scientific literature, which includes the wide range of gaseous compounds that
can emanate from paints, building materials, electronic components, and human activities and potentially accumulate in indoor spaces
as contaminants. (Dixon, 2011)


increasing daily due to industrial activities and fossil fuel consumptions. Inappropriate outdoor air quality
affects indoor occupant's comfort. (M. Moghbel a, 2017). On the other hand, in modern times, indoor air
quality (IAQ) has become a serious concern as buildings have been increasingly sealed in an effort to reduce
energy consumption (Dixon, 2011).
1.2 Indoor plants
Joseph Priestley, who is credited for the discovery of oxygen, had done an experiment which demonstrated
that a mouse could survive markedly longer inside a sealed vessel when it also contained an illuminated
plant. In 1771 he wrote that “The injury which is continually done to the atmosphere by the respiration of …
animals … is, in part at least, repaired by the vegetable creation. With these experiments, Priestley
pioneered the research into the positive influence of green plants on the air quality of occupied indoor
environment (Dixon, 2011).
Research over the last three decades has demonstrated that indoor potted-plants can significantly reduce
concentrations of most types of urban air pollutants (B.C. Wolverton, 1989). The results of a study about
incorporating plants in reducing indoor pollutants show that the intrinsic CO2 mitigating properties of plants
could be optimised and routinely applied for the purpose of reducing the load on the ventilation component of
HVAC systems, given a moderate increase in targeted lighting levels. Indoor plants represent a potential low-
cost, easily maintained, air-cleansing component in the built environment (F.R. Torpy, 2014).
There is evidence that biological systems can adapt to removing gaseous contaminants at typical indoor
concentrations. The development of a botanical indoor air bio filtration system has shown the potential for
plant-based ecosystems to remove substantial amounts of gaseous contaminants when the air stream is
actively exposed to the rhizosphere (Dixon, 2011).
This research will demonstrate the capacity of some special plants, which will be described later, to reduce a
significant of indoor air CO2.
1.3 Double skin façade with plants
Studies have demonstrated the positive thermal performance of the building with plants in the double skin
façade (W.J. Stec*, 2005), however the main aim of this study is not thermal performance of double skin
facades with plants. Double skin façade have significant advantages which make it the best alternative to
accommodate plants inside to improve indoor air quality as:
x improved thermal insulation (Monteith, 1981);
x improved noise attenuation by absorbing, diffracting and reflecting sound (A.K. Pal, 2000);
x air filtering from dust, chemicals (B.C. Wolverton, Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution
Abatement, 1989)
x oxygen production and CO2reduction ;
x Psychological positive effect by reducing the risk of sick building syndrome; plants proofed their
healing effects by reducing stress (T. Fjeld, 1998).
x Aesthetics stimulant to the people in the room.
The aim of this research is to design a cavity to accommodate the plant inside and let in the indoor air and
circulate it throw the panel which will be purified by plant photosynthesis. After refinement, fresh air will return
back to the indoor space. Details of this double skin façade will be discussed further.

2. Azolla; a natural air purifier

Azolla is a small aquatic fern which floats on the water surface. It contains within its leaf cavities a symbiotic
cyanobacterium–Anabaena azalea. Azolla is historically cultured in the rice-farming system in China and
Southeast Asian countries (Xiaofeng Liua, 2008). The importance of Azolla for lowland rice production has
been evaluated in numerous investigations (C.C. Liu, 1989).
Figure 1: Azolla (left) and its endosymbiont Anabaena (right) (Bujak, 2017)

2.1 Why is azolla unique?

Azolla is unique because it is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet – yet it does not need any soil
to grow.
Unlike almost all other plants, Azolla is able to get its nitrogen fertilizer directly from the atmosphere. That
means that it is able to produce bio fertilizer, livestock feed, food and biofuel exactly where they are needed
and, at the same time, draw down large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce the
threat of climate change (Bujak, 2017).
2.2 Biological character of azolla
2.2.1 Strong photosynthetic O2-releasing capacity
In comparison with some plants which have been proposed for use in CELSS systems, such as rice, corn
and cauliflower, Azolla possesses higher photosynthetic O 2-releasing capacity (Xiaofeng Liua, 2008).
2.2.2 Rapid multiplication speed
Under suitable climatic weather, Azolla undergoes its asexual multiplication by the breakage of side
branches. During vigorous growth in spring or autumn seasons, its daily multiplication rate reaches as much
as 100 g/m2; annual biomass production is 150–225 t/hm2. Trails proved that its doubling time will be clearly
shortened when grown in artificial controlled environmental condition, and biomass production increased
(Xiaofeng Liua, 2008).
2.3 Azolla; an appropriate candidate to be used for air purifying
There have been attempting researches to analyse azolla biological function to be applied in closed cabins
for space usages. These are conclusions which demonstrate that azolla is one of the best candidates to be
used in building double façade for cleaning the air;
2.3.1 Biological Controlled Ecological Life Support System cabin
It is the first attempt to use plant photosynthetic activity to stabilize CO2 and O2 values in a closed cabin.
When Azolla, men and fish coexisted in the controlled closed test chamber, photosynthesis by Azolla and
respiration by men and fish complemented each other. Atmospheric O2 and CO2 concentrations inside the
chamber reach a balance and form closed cycle (Min Chen ֛, 2012).
2.3.2 The relationship between increasing CO2 concentration and azolla growth speed
In the controlled closed test chamber, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration has an obvious effect on
the promotion of net photosynthesis in Azolla. The Azolla net photosynthetic O2 evolution and CO2 fixation
are higher than in a normal O2–CO2 concentration environment, and O2–CO2 concentrations inside the
chamber equilibrate to create a favourable living environment for humans (Min Chen ֛, 2012).


2.3.3 Azolla space occupation
Azolla can be cultured in multiple layers. The 50.4 m2 cultivation area just occupied 6.55 m3, and the
distance between each layer was only 130 mm (Min Chen ֛, 2012). In view of the limited area in cavity
between double skin façade layers, the plant module size is also restricted. Thus, as a biological component
of a cavity, Azolla has unique advantages.
2.3.4 Screening shade-tolerant Azolla
Generally, Azolla only needs 25–50% full sunlight for its normal growth; slight shade is of benefit to Azolla
growth in field condition. However, when the light intensity is lower than 1500 lux, the biomass production of
Azolla will be greatly decreased (Xiaofeng Liua, 2008). As long as we aim to use azolla as a façade
component, there will be adequate light there and it will not be a challenge of system.
2.3.5 Azolla doesn’t need soil to grow
It has mentioned before, that azolla is a floating plant and doesn’t need soil for its growth. However it needs
to be floated into at least 2 cm fresh water for its biological growth (Bujak, 2017) which has to be considered
in design of system.
2.4 The exact CO2 fixation and O2 emission of azolla
Azolla has enormous potential to sequester of atmospheric CO2 due to its rapid growth in freshwater without
the need for a soil-based nitrogen source (Bujak, 2017).
Professor Jonathan Bujak and his assist Alexandra Bujak carried out experiments under azolla Foundation
organization and they announced that azolla sequestered 32.54 metric tonnes CO2/hectare/year after 18
days growth with 10% initial cover of A. filiculoides (Bujak, 2017)
32.54 metric tonnes CO2/hectare/year is equalled to 3.71 g/m2.h which means 1 m2 of azolla can absorb
3.71g CO2 in one hour.
Researches about azolla in closed test cabins announced these 2 factors as;
2.030 g/ m2.h for its CO2 absorption and 1.543 g/ m2.h for its O2 emission (Min Chen ֛, 2012)

3. Façade system design

3.1 System process
The scenario written for this façade is to provide a cavity between 2 layers which accommodates azolla
between them, so indoor air will enter to the cavity and by photosynthesis of azolla, the CO2 produced by
human activity will be consumed and total concentration comes into lower level. This system is about to
reduce energy consumption by reduce in inlet air used by active ventilation systems System is completely
isolated from outdoor air and the aim is to provide azolla's air, just from indoor.
3.2 Different parts of the system
3.2.1 Double skin façade panel with operable interior opening
A double-skin facade is a building element characterized by two glazed surfaces with a central cavity (André
Albertoa, 2017). The outer layer must be a high resistance laminated glass, which usually covers the entire
building and is supported by metal brackets connected to the building structure (André Albertoa, 2017). The
inner facade, which may or may not be fully glazed, is where the accessibility to azolla's baskets is provided
by operable glasses, to become able to change out-worn plant, and also to do cleaning services of interior

A. filiculoides, A. Mexicana and A. pinnata. are most known azolla's which organizations have worked with (Bujak, 2017)
These are concluded after ̽KRXUJURZWK
3.2.2 Air exchanger between zones
This is the part which is installed bellow and up the interior side of the system to bring indoor air in to the
cavity and also insufflate the fresh air into the zone. Renson4 has invented a technology named
«Decentralised ventilation unit with heat recovery» which is equipped with fans contributing in air circulation
between zones (Figure 3). Although this unit is designed to bring outdoor air into indoor zones, but it is
appropriated to be installed in interior side of the double skin façade to bring the air into the cavity and
exhaust the fresh air to the zones (RENSON, 2016).

Figure 3 Decentralised ventilation unit with Figure 2 over frame flap ventilators (RENSON,
heat recovery (Renson, 2017) 2016)

3.2.3 Azolla's baskets

As mentioned earlier, azolla does not need soil for its growth, however it needs to be floated in 2cm fresh
water (2.3.5). There have been created trial ways such as «wet cultured growing method». The wet-culture
method is to use some special materials to make a solution-keeping pan on which Azolla stretches its roots
into the substance and absorbs the nutrition from solution-keeping materials (Xiaofeng Liua, 2008). However
these methods are being in experimental testes, so that for this research, water boundary is used, named
«azolla's baskets» to provide 2cm fresh water for its growth. These baskets have to be designed in a way
which air can circulate between layers.
3.2.4 System's configuration
Following these configuration and details, 5.04 ݉ଶ of azolla may be situated in 2 meter of façade length with
a height of floor-to ceiling.

An organization which works on <making healthy spaces> with branches all around the world


Figure 5 system configuration showing plant's Figure 4 vertical wall section showing
baskets and profile details different parts of system

Figure 6 system configuration showing operable

interior side
4. Analyses and results
The main purpose of this research is to show this specific green façade natural ventilation capacity and its
effect on energy consumption of mechanical ventilation systems through reducing inlet fresh air
requirements. There are two analyse phases:
x Calculation of façade capacity, which determines the CO2 reduction of indoor air by azolla that
results in lower outflow air flow rate of mechanical systems and also the number and power of fans
that are needed to circulate indoor air into façade cavity.
x CFD analysis of turbulent air flow throw panel, which demonstrates air circulation in the cavity of
double skin façade and its velocity and pressures.
4.1 Ventilation capacity of azolla in double skin façade system
Indoor CO2 concentrations can be used to estimate outdoor air ventilation rates based on the constant
injection tracer gas technique. The application of the constant injection technique using occupant-generated
CO2 is sometimes referred to as equilibrium CO2 analysis (D6245, 2007). This is an approach in which the
outdoor airflow rate is constant, the outdoor tracer gas concentration is nonzero and constant, the indoor
CO2 concentration is at equilibrium, and there is a constant generation rate of CO2 in the space, under
these conditions, outdoor air flow rate is given by Eq1 (62, 1999), (D6245, 2007):

Equation 1
ܳை ൌ  ͳͲ଺  ൈ 
‫ܥ‬ா௡Ǥ௘Ǥ௤ െ ‫ܥ‬ை௨௧

ܳை = outdoor airflow rate into the zone, L/s,

G = CO2 generation rate in the zone, L/s,
‫ܥ‬ா௡ǤாǤ௤ = equilibrium CO2 concentration in the zone, ppm (v), and
‫ܥ‬ை௨௧ = outdoor CO2 concentration, ppm (v) (D6245, 2007).

x This research is focused on office buildings which is generally occupied by citizens along the day, so
analysis is based on data given for office buildings. CO2 generation rate corresponding to an
average-sized adult (AD = 1.8 m2) engaged in office work (1.2 met) is about 0.0052 L/s (D6245,
2007) (D6245, 2007).
x Experimental studies have been conducted in chambers and in occupied buildings in which people
evaluated the acceptability of the air in terms of body odour. These studies concluded that about 7.5
L/s of outdoor air ventilation per person will control human body odour such that roughly 80 % of
unadapted persons (visitors) will find the odour at an acceptable level (D6245, 2007).
x These studies also showed that the same level of body odour acceptability was found to occur at a
CO2 concentration that is about 650 ppm (v) above the outdoor concentration (D6245, 2007).
4.1.1 An Average-sized adult is working on an office work building. If the only source of CO2 absorption is
azolla, how much azolla (݉ଶ ) do we need to absorb all of his exhale CO2 production?

Azolla CO2 absorption (2.4) = 2.03 (1) 2.03g ?
௠మ Ǥ௛
Azolla CO2 absorption = 0/046
௠మ Ǥ௛
௚ 5
Molecular weight of CO2 = 44 (2) 44g 1mol

Which means, 1 meter square of azolla can absorb 0/046 mol of CO2 in one hour.
T= 298.15 K, and P= 1 atm (under experimental conditions), RCO2 = 0/0821 (Partnership, 2017)

(Partnership, 2017)


௡ǤோǤ் ଴Ȁ଴ସ଺ൈ଴Ȁ଴଼ଶଵൈଶଽ଼Ȁଵହ ௅ ௅
V= ՜ azolla CO2 absorption volume = = 1/125 = 0/0003125
௉ ଵ ௠మ Ǥ௛ ௠మ Ǥ௦
Which means, 1 meter square of azolla can absorb 0/0003125 L of CO2 in one second.

‫ܩ‬஺௭௢௟௟௔௔௕௦௢௥௣௧௜௢௡ ൈ X meter square of azolla = ‫ܩ‬஼௢ଶ௚௘௡௘௥௔௧௜௢௡௥௔௧௘௕௬௢௡௘௣௘௥௦௢௡௜௡௢௙௙௜௖௘௕௨௜௟ௗ௜௡௚

0/0003125 × X = 0/0052 L/s ՜ X = 16/64 ݉ଶ
௠మ Ǥ௦

Which means 16/64 ݉ଶ of azolla is needed to make an equilibrium between one person's CO2 generation
and azolla CO2 absorption.
4.1.2 If an existing facade cavity occupies 10݉ଶ of azolla, how much does it decrease outdoor air flow rate
as natural ventilation for two people?
Result (2) 1݉ଶ of azolla 0/0003125 L/s
10 ݉ଶ of azolla ? = 0/003125L/s
ீ ሺଶൈ଴Ȁ଴଴ହଶሻି଴Ȁ଴଴ଷଵଶହ
Equation 1 ܳை ൌ  ͳͲ଺  ൈ  ܳை ൌ  ͳͲ଺  ൈ  = 11/19 L/s
஼ಶ೙Ǥ೐Ǥ೜ ି஼ೀೠ೟ ଺ହ଴௣௣௠͸

As mentioned in 4.1, 7/5 L/s of outdoor air flow rate for one person will result in 80% of visitor's satisfaction
and this is going to be 15 L/s for two people working in an office work building.
15 L/s – 11/19 L/s = 3/81 ՜ = 25/4%

This is meant that using 10 meter square of azolla will reduce 25/4% of total need for ventilation of two
people working in an office work building








21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Chart 1 the relation between increasing volume of Azolla and decreasing level of mechanical ventilation
4.1.3 For a façade containing 10 meter square of azolla in an office environment with 2 people, specify the
fans type and their power to become able for system to be run ( room volume = 48 ݉ଷ )
ଵଵȀଵଽൈ଺଴ൈ଺଴ ସ଴Ȁଶ଼ ଵ
ܳை = 11/19 L/s = = 40/28 ݉ଷ /h = 0/83 (3)
ଵ଴଴଴ ସ଼ ௛

As mentioned in 4.1, 650ppm concentration above outdoor air will result in 80% of visitor's satisfaction.
Result (3) means that 0/83 of total indoor air will be changed in one hour.
(D6245, 2007) Represents a plot of the calculated CO2 build-up of indoor CO2 concentration for several
different air changes, assuming an outdoor concentration of 350 ppm and an occupant density typical of
office space. This plot shows that for an air exchange rate of 0/83ͳȀ݄ , the CO2 concentration after being in
equilibrium condition will be 800 ppm .
CO2 absorption by 10݉ଶ azolla = 0/003125 L/s = 11/25 L/h
Which means that 11/25L of CO2 has to be absorbed by plants in one hour.

௡ǤோǤ் ௡ൈ଴Ȁ଴଼ଶଵൈଶଽ଼Ȁଵହ
V= ՜ 11/25 = ՜ n = 0/4595 molCO2 ՜ 44gCO2
௉ ଵ
? = 20/22g 0/4595 mol
Which means 20/22 g of CO2 has to be absorbed in one hour.
800 ppm CO2 is existed in indoor air = 800 mg CO2/ 1 L of indoor air
1 Litre of indoor air 800 mgCO2
? = 22/46L 20220 mgCO2

For 10݉ of azolla contained in a façade system of an office workplace with two staffs, we need 22/46 L of air
to be entered in double skin façade's cavity in one hour to reduce 25/4% of total ventilation. Renson's
Endura Twist 2ൈ3 (Decentralised ventilation units) may be an appropriate choice for this façade.

4.2 CFD analysis of turbulent air flow throw panel

For this propose, a 4 meters width panel with 3 meters height and a cavity of 60cm has been modelled in
Design-builder. The aim was to demonstrate air circulation in the cavity. 10 baskets of azolla were placed in
the cavity providing 10 ݉ଶ of azolla. The materials chosen for modelling included:
x Double glazing full surface for external package
x Single glazing with two vents for internal package
x Aluminium material for other sides
For a panel containing 10݉ଶ azolla, 22/46 L of inlet air to the cavity in one hour is needed 4.1.3). that equals
0/00623 liters one second. The vent beneath the interior window enters the air and the upon one exhust it to
the room. The inlet and oultet air flow for both vents is 0/00623 L/s. the air circulation through the panel after
analyse is shown:

Figure 7 air distribution in the cavity Figure 8 3D contours of air velocity into the panel
In real situation, CO2 concentration should be measured consecutively to reach an exact degree of fan's power.


5. Conclusion
Basically, it is accepted that indoor plants could improve indoor air quality. This study investigated a special
double skin façade with azolla plant inside its cavity, designed to contribute decreasing indoor CO2 produced
by occupants. Results showed that with high photosynthesis rate of azolla in the cavity, 0/0003125 L of CO2
is going to be absorbed by 1݉ଶ of azolla in one second. Using 10 baskets of azolla in 4 meter length of this
façade will occupy 10 ݉ଶ azolla, which indicates that 0/003125 L of CO2 will be absorbed in one second. By
applying this specific façade for an office building with 2 occupants, result showed that 25/4% of total outdoor
ventilation demand, which is supplied by mechanical ventilation is going to be decreased.

6. Acknowledgement
Special thank goes to eng.Seyed Gholamhossein Afsharzadeh, head of Parhoon Tarh architecture studio, for
introducing azolla as a high O2-realsing plant and encouraging me to follow this subject.

7. References
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