USask engineers to study possible COVID-19 transmission through HVAC systems

Engineers at the University of Saskatchewan have received a grant to research the effects of smaller particles of the novel coronavirus and possible transmission through HVAC systems.

Carey Simonson, a professor of engineering at the university, is part of the team who were awarded the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grant.

He said while the public is doing their part in preventing the spread of the virus by washing their hands and wearing masks, doing so only protects against the bigger particles of COVID-19.

“The individual virus is around 0.1 micrometer, so we think of a human hair [that’s] around 100 micrometers, this is a thousand times smaller,” Simonson said. “The smaller aerosols that we can’t see, they can travel certainly longer distances.”

Carey Simonson and his team at the University of Saskatchewan are looking at how airborne illnesses are transferred through heating and cooling systems in enclosed spaces. The research could prove crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers around the world study HVAC systems to see how the virus is transferred. 7:19

He said COVID-19 particles could be suspended in the air for hours.

“It’s enough of a concern that our systems, our HVAC systems, should consider the possible transmission through the ventilation, heating and cooling systems,” Simonson said.

Fresh air possible antidote

He said the main aspect of their study is providing fresh air for spaces and the resulting effect on the smaller particles.

“If you increase the amount of fresh air you bring into the building, you can decrease the concentration of these aerosols and therefore reduce the risk,” Simonson said.

He said they’re looking specifically at ventilation and air-to-air energy exchangers, and whether they would bring in some of the contaminants that were sent out of the building back into it.

Simonson said it is a six-month project and there could be more research done with the apparent “new norm” of COVID-19.

“This is a big enough issue that the government is funding us to look at,” Simonson said.

“Where it would be applied is that we first want to be able to quantify what is the risk, how much do we bring in and then can we develop systems to overcome that risk.”

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