Air quality spotlight is firmly on commercial boilers

As attention centres on air quality and pollution from NOx emissions, James Porter, sales director at Remeha, looks at the impact on commercial boiler plant.

Just how clean is the air we breathe? We might not be able to see the pollution, but one thing is clear – air quality is a rapidly growing concern. According to the World Health Organization, outdoor and indoor air pollution is now a major environmental risk to health, linked to one in ten deaths worldwide annually. The news that most UK cities and towns currently exceed WHO guidelines has brought increased focus on one group of polluting gases in particular – nitrogen oxides, or NOx. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) claims that pollution from NOx is responsible for the premature death of 23,500 citizens each year in the UK alone.

How does this relate to commercial boilers? A large proportion of UK non-domestic buildings rely on commercial boiler plant, while in new build, commercial condensing boilers are frequently specified for energy-saving, environmentally friendly space heating. So ensuring that all commercial boiler plant is both energy-efficient and low NOx would accelerate an improvement in outdoor and indoor air quality.

Of course, low NOx is not a new concept in heating. Take BREEAM for example, which has promoted low NOx heating for a number of years. BREEAM assesses the environmental impact of a building across a number of criteria, from energy to ecology, producing an overall rating for its sustainable design and operation. Included in this is the Pol 2 pollution category, where a maximum of three credits are awarded for heating plant that, under normal conditions, has a dry NOx emission level up to or less than 40mg/kWh.

Higher BREEAM ratings bring strong interrelated environmental and financial advantages to both building owners and occupants. Occupants increasingly favour sustainable properties just as business-savvy companies look to demonstrate their ‘eco’ credentials for a competitive advantage.

Added to this is the growing connection between sustainable buildings, employee wellbeing and greater productivity. This is underlined in a new US study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University. The research demonstrates that employees in certified ‘green’ buildings are likely to have fewer ‘sick building’ symptoms than those working in non-certified buildings. The improved health and wellbeing of the occupants also lead to higher cognitive ability and sleep quality. All of which leads to better performance, better productivity – and ultimately, a better bottom line.

Then there’s the imminent need for low NOx compliance. From September 2018, the Ecodesign of Energy-related Products Directive will introduce mandatory NOx requirements for all space heaters up to and including 400kW on both new build and refurbishment projects. Maximum NOx emissions of 56mg/ kWh will be imposed for gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) boilers with a maximum of 120mg/kWh for oil fired boilers. This requirement, which follows on from the tighter energy efficiency standards introduced in September 2015, aims to ensure that only the most energyefficient, low NOx heating products are manufactured, specified and installed across the UK and Europe.

The focus on reduced NOx emissions can only be beneficial, with cleaner, less polluted air benefitting the planet, our health and our economy. And, of course, the good news is that we already have a practical, cost-effective route to low NOx heating in the commercial condensing boiler.

Boilers may have been with us for years, but the advances in condensing boiler design in particular are outstanding. Condensing boilers are frequently associated with ease of installation, flexibility of design, reliability and affordability. But importantly, condensing boilers like the Remeha range are also designed and engineered for ultra-low NOx emissions, supporting the drive for cleaner air. The familiar casing hides sophisticated technology engineered for near maximum efficiency and NOx so low that it is eligible for maximum BREEAM credits. As a result, most condensing boilers are not only fully compliant with all current regulations, but future-proof to ErP NOx legislation.

Ensuring buildings use low NOx heating needn’t be difficult, but it has the ability to transform the air we breathe.

So what are the implications for specifiers, contractors, building owners and FM teams? There are three important elements that energy managers should be aware of:

• specification – the goal now should be to specify only high-efficiency, low NOx heating products on new and existing systems;

• heating refurbishment – consider upgrading any old boilers with high-efficiency, low NOx solutions to condensing boilers. At best, 25-yearold boilers will have a maximum gross efficiency of around 70 per cent and high NOx emissions, even with good maintenance programmes; and

• good design – keep the NOx low through accurate sizing of heat demand, good system design and advanced controls. This will reduce energy waste and the associated emissions

The campaign for cleaner air is gaining momentum. When it comes to heating, condensing boilers tick all boxes, reducing NOx emissions, energy waste and even operating costs while boosting wellbeing and profitability. All this with a rapid return on investment and minimum disruption. Perhaps the question should really be, why wait until 2018 to install low NOx heating?

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