Air Quality - Investment in the Science & Research sector: Part 1.


Leticia Campello, Air Quality Group Science & Research sector lead

Challenges in design.

The science and research sector is always evolving in order to deliver the most advanced and innovative facilities – with the use of energy and how the spaces are ventilated being crucial as part of their function.

It is vital to plan for sufficient ventilation[1] when designing these spaces to ensure the health of those using the spaces, that the activities taking place are not impacted by poor air quality, and importantly, any potentially hazardous substances that are being exhausted are appropriately managed. Moreover, following more recent developments, by the UK government, aimed at cementing the UK as a science and technology superpower by 2030, the science and research sector has been experiencing an increase in demand for laboratory spaces in major cities such as London [2].

Ventilation strategy is key in the design of laboratory spaces.

Laboratories may handle various toxic chemicals or harmful organisms and as such consideration must be given to appropriate ventilation strategies. These should be able to mitigate high levels of indoor air pollution which can lead to acute and chronic human health implications. [3]

It is also important to take into consideration the quality of outdoor air (i.e., pollutant concentrations) that is being supplied to ventilation systems. Depending on the local air quality conditions, ventilation controls may be required (i.e., mechanical ventilation equipped with nitrogen oxides filtration) in order to reduce pollutant concentrations[4].

From an air quality perspective, indoor and outdoor environments need to be considered when designing laboratory spaces and determining requirements for ventilation control.

Ventilation systems need to be safe and efficient.

Adequate ventilation systems are important from a safety as well as a financial point of view. Laboratory spaces can have a high energy demand, hence these spaces need to be designed to be energy efficient while ensuring appropriate performance levels.

Laboratory spaces that are equipped with an efficient and cost-effective ventilation system support in the delivery of clean indoor environments whilst balancing human-centric and planet-conscious design.

What are the challenges?

The need for flexibility.

Laboratory spaces typically need some degree of flexibility. In early design stages, the type of activities carried out might be unknown or laboratory flexibility might be one of the client’s aspirations. As such, it will be important to design ventilation systems that allow maximum flexibility possible.

It can be challenging to design a clean and sterile indoor environment, with the ability to handle chemicals with stringent air quality objectives/national standards, without knowing what processes are taking place, or what products are being handled, within these spaces.

Air quality indoors.

Typically, the UK population spends an average of 80-90% of their time indoors [5] (reference: Guideline 10P, Interactions Affecting the Achievement of Acceptable Indoor Environments, Second Public Review ASHRAE, Atlanta, USA (2010)). High levels of indoor air pollution can lead to acute and chronic human health implications. Moreover, since laboratory workers are expected to use these spaces on a day-to-day basis, and as such are more susceptible to harmful chemicals and odour exposure, it is important to ensure that comfort and safety are at the core of the design from a human health & wellbeing perspective.

One way to ensure that air quality is considered during the design and operation of the building is to produce an Indoor Air Quality Plan (IAQP). This plan ensures that a building is designed to maximise Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in the long term3. More specifically, a project specific IAQP, can ensure that the proposed ventilation system is able to minimise indoor air pollution and it is able to maintain good IAQ.

The production of an IAQP can be beneficial for spaces such as laboratories with fume cupboards and/or microbiological safety cabinets since these spaces are equipped with stringent ventilation systems. It is possible to ensure that sufficient fresh air is supplied to the building and that air intakes and exhausts are designed to minimise the ingress and build-up of air pollutants inside the building in relation to each other and other sources of emissions (i.e., standby generators)[6].

Outdoor air quality.

Laboratories also have the potential to exhaust certain levels of chemical pollution from fume cupboards. Chemical emissions from fume cupboards are extracted from the laboratory spaces via an extract flue typically located at roof level.

It is important to investigate, and if required, evaluate the potential of adverse impacts from fume cupboard extracts at sensitive locations in the local area. Given the UK’s potential to become a leading global hub for Life Science and thus increasing the shift of laboratories into our towns and cities the need to consider the outside air quality is crucial for a robust design.

With the increase of laboratory spaces within an urban setting, careful consideration of the potential adverse impacts from fume cupboard extracts will need to be considered in the design.

Part 2 of this Insight Piece will discuss the importance of a collaborative approach when designing laboratory spaces in order to tackle challenges of modelling unknown emissions from laboratory spaces.

[1] Guide: Building Regulations For Laboratories (

[2] Health matters: air pollution – GOV.UK (


[4] Unique Approach to High-Efficiency Laboratory-Exhaust Energy Recovery | HPAC Engineering

[5] Guideline 10P, Interactions Affecting the Achievement of Acceptable Indoor Environments, Second Public Review ASHRAE, Atlanta, USA (2010))

[6] BREEAM UK New Construction Version 6.1 (