Investigating the Impact of Plants on Indoor Air Quality: a Multi-scale Cross-disciplinary Approach

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Approximately 4.3 million people worldwide died prematurely due to indoor air pollution in 2012. In Britain, residents tend to spend as much as 90% of their time indoors, where poor indoor air quality can result in the prevalence of Sick Building Syndrome. Plants offer easy-access, low-cost and versatile options to substantially improve indoor air quality. This cross-disciplinary project aims to scrutinise the potential of a range of plant species in different growth media to provide key air quality services by removing harmful gases and particles present indoors.

Our approach brings together expertise in atmospheric chemistry and physics, horticulture and plant physiology and building ventilation. The studentship will address the complex issue of selecting the most suited plant species/cultivars, growing media and environmental conditions on both individual plant and building scales employing (i) a small environmental chamber accommodating a single plant and (ii) a large environmental chamber representing an indoor working environment. On both scales, we will measure and control key air quality parameters such as the concentrations of CO2 , semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) and aerosols. We will simultaneously carefully test the impact of the plant's environment (focusing on light intensity, substrate water content and CO2 concentration) on the plant's ability to sequester pollutants. We will also test the impact of different plant growth substrates including standard growing media and hydroculture on the plant's air quality services. Finally, the results from the small-scale study will be fed into the building-scale research to investigate how the plants will improve the well-being and working productivity.

This is -to our knowledge- the first multi-scale study linking rigorous control of plant conditions to their indoor air quality performance. Additionally, while there have been a number of studies on uptake of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of potted plants, SVOCs are clearly under-researched while being especially important since they can interact directly with particles present in the indoor environment due to their low volatilities.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509723/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2021
1808887 Studentship EP/N509723/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2019 Curtis Gubb