Hi-tech plant wall better protects from chemical soup - new research

Dr Fraser Torpy (right) and Jock Gammon in the UTS Plants and Environmental Quality Research Lab, picture by Chris Walsh

Dr Fraser Torpy (right) and Jock Gammon in the UTS Plants and Environmental Quality Research Lab, picture by Chris Walsh

In summary: 
  • Research by UTS plant scientists has found a new kind of green wall system significantly improves the removal of toxins and carbon dioxide from the air in indoor spaces
  • Apart from laboratory tests, field trials were held in places workers or the public typically spend time, including offices and sealed rooms. The results were then compared with how well typical indoor plant systems fared

The ability of many plant species to remove harmful airborne chemicals found in modern office spaces can be boosted significantly using a newly discovered approach, scientific research has shown.

Green walls, now a familiar feature of many Australian offices look good and clean the air. However, University of Technology Sydney research has shown a new green wall system delivers significantly improved results.

Biosafety research was carried out by UTS plant scientists with a new kind of green wall system, dubbed the 'Junglefy Breathing Wall'. Researchers measured how well the new system removed toxic pollutants including volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter out of the air.

Apart from laboratory tests, field trials were held in places workers or the public typically spend time, including offices and sealed rooms. The results were then compared with how well typical indoor plant systems fared.

UTS Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group leader Dr Fraser Torpy said apart from making public and office spaces feel better, plants are also very successful at absorbing toxins and carbon dioxide through the natural process of photosynthesis and biofiltration.

He said tests of the new approach, developed for use with the Breathing Wall by living infrastructure specialists Junglefy, had delivered a significant and quite unexpected improvement in toxin and CO2 uptake by plants.

"Our research has shown that the new approach taken by Junglefy delivers some of the highest photosynthetic carbon dioxide removal rates observed in research to date" Dr Torpy said.

"Three papers based on our studies have been peer reviewed and now await publication. The promising results indicate that further research into the health-giving effects of plants in green wall systems would be valuable given how many of us are spending hours every day in offices and other enclosed spaces."

Sydney locals and thousands of tourists are amazed by the stunning plants that grace the exterior walls of the Frasers & Sekisui House, One Central Park building, located on Broadway. Junglefy, who were involved in its construction and now maintain this living infrastructure, have enabled this building to become a viable living ecosystem that not only looks stunning but also attracts frogs, birds and bees.

The living landmark also saw One Central Park awarded last year with the World's Best Tall Building accolade by the Council of Tall Building and Urban Habitats.

On a similar scale, Junglefy's Breathing Wall is also a dynamic living system using an active, modular green wall that combines nature with technology. "Given the results of our research, such a system could vastly improve the wellbeing of workers in offices – certainly less stuffy, less noisy, cooler and certainly healthier," Dr Torpy said. "Hundreds of pot plants or a much larger green wall system within an office would be needed to achieve similar results."

Findings of the UTS research based on a 10m2 Breathing Wall (based on a 10m2 Breathing Wall in a 100m2 office with 2.6m ceiling with 10 occupants with 1 fan under 100uE of light) included:

  • Carbon dioxide reduction – plants in the wall can process 24.2 litres of pure CO2 per hour– to date the highest rate recorded in previously published research.
  • Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs) removal – it removes VOCs 1.5 times faster than equivalent volume pot plants.
  • Particulate Matter (<PM10) filtration – it can remove 95% of all <PM10 from starting concentrations, allowing the air to be returned to safe breathing levels within 60 minutes.
  • Acoustics and energy efficiency – the Breathing Wall acts as a sound barrier, improving acoustics while cooling the surrounding air temperature – potentially resulting in energy efficiency and reduced air conditioning costs

Junglefy founder Jock Gammon said the Breathing Wall was the result of years of research and testing.  "We will be putting the new system through its paces in a public sense when we install it for the first time in a major Sydney development," Mr Gammon said.

That first installation will be over two floors of the new Lendlease global headquarters at Barangaroo in early July. The Junglefy Breathing Wall will complement other plants in the building resulting in over four plants per person.