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Possible future impacts of elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 on human cognitive performance and on the design and operation of ventilation systems in buildings

20 July, 2018

Possible future impacts of elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 on human cognitive performance and on the design and operation of ventilation systems in buildings

Robert Lowe

Gesche Huebner

Tadj Oreszczyn

Research paper   Buildings & Energy

Robert Lowe, Gesche Huebner and Tadj Oreszczyn

This paper brings together a rapid evidence assessment of impacts of elevated CO2 concentrations on human cognition with IPCC projections of atmospheric CO2 concentration by the end of the present century, and an analysis of potential consequences of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations for ventilation systems in buildings and other enclosed spaces. Whilst only limited research has been done on the effect of CO2 on cognition (as opposed to air quality in general), half of the studies reviewed indicate that human cognitive performance declines with increasing CO2 concentrations. Hence, given the likelihood of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration by the end of the 21st century, direct impacts of anthropogenic CO2 emissions on human cognitive performance may be unavoidable. Attempts to minimise these direct impacts are likely to result in significant indirect impacts on the engineering of ventilation systems and associated energy use in all enclosed spaces including buildings and transport systems.

Practical application: This paper concerns what may well be one of the most important long-term drivers of the design, management, operation and regulation of ventilation systems over the remainder of the 21st century. It will be relevant to professionals, particularly at senior levels in the building industry.

Publication details

Lowe, R.J., Huebner, G.M, & Oreszczyn, T. 2018. Possible future impacts of elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 on human cognitive performance and on the design and operation of ventilation systems in buildings. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 39 (6). doi: 10.1177/0143624418790129

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