Rapid retrofit research to help get workers back to the office

The City of Melbourne has unveiled an innovative new project to minimise COVID-19 transmission in office buildings by retrofitting ventilation systems.

The pilot research project ‘BREATH’ will trial and evaluate different ventilation systems in a vacant CBD building, in partnership with the University of Melbourne and CBUS Property.

As part of project ‘BREATH’, University of Melbourne researchers will trial three types of ventilation systems.

A cost-analysis will be performed to determine how much each retrofit measure will cost per square metre.

Findings from the three-month trial will be made available to building owners, tenants and partners to inform how best to improve their workplaces.

“We know that fear of infection and mask mandates are two of the biggest barriers to a large-scale return of office workers to the city,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“Most conventional ventilation systems offer only low levels of protection from air-borne contamination. The ‘BREATH’ pilot will investigate the most cost-effective systems needed to improve air quality and reduce COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.”

A  panorama of the Melbourne skyline

The University of Melbourne’s Head of Mechanical Engineering Professor Jason Monty said the team of fluid dynamics experts will be measuring the complex airflow patterns between occupants that can carry infectious disease.

“We’ll combine that with monitoring energy use, temperature and human comfort to determine the most efficient ventilation systems,” Prof Monty said.

For more information on this project:
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“This is the first time such a team has come together to solve this massive problem from energy-use and infection control perspectives simultaneously.”

Cbus Property has been involved with trialing and implementing new technology and practices at 423 Bourke Street, Melbourne, which has been earmarked for redevelopment.

“One of the key challenges has been to implement new technology that enhances indoor air quality, mitigating potential transmission of airborne viruses such as COVID-19, without impacting too significantly on energy performance,” Cbus Property’s Chief Executive Officer Adrian Pozzo said.

“As Australia’s highest-rated NABERS Energy portfolio for the past two years, we are particularly interested in trying to overcome this challenge, which is why we have partnered with the City of Melbourne and the University of Melbourne to pilot these technologies.”