The proposal would transform air-conditioning units into machines that capture carbon dioxide and transform it into fuel.
The context: Air-conditioning units are energy intensive, causing emissions that contribute to rising global temperatures (which then, ironically, cause more people to buy AC units). But what if you could use them to fight against climate change instead? That’s what a group of researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology suggest in a paper in Nature Communications this week.
How? The researchers suggest adapting AC systems to capture carbon dioxide and water from the air, using carbon-capture technologies that are currently under development by companies such as Climeworks. Once collected, the water and CO2 would be converted into renewable hydrocarbon fuels. This would effectively create localized synthetic oil wells attached to the systems used in offices and apartment blocks. As an example, the researchers claim that converting all the air conditioners in the iconic Fair Tower office building in Frankfurt, Germany, could pull a thousand tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per hour.
Caveats: The plan is highly speculative and purely theoretical, and it relies on the successful development of multiple different technologies. The authors have dubbed the concept “crowd oil,” and while it’s an attractive idea, there are lots of challenges to be addressed before it could ever become a reality. It could also potentially distract from the crucial mission of reducing the level of emissions we produce in the first place.
Sign up here to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech in our daily newsletter The Download.
This geothermal startup showed its wells can be used like a giant underground battery
If Fervo Energy’s field results work at commercial scale, it could become cheaper and easier to green the grid.
Yes, we have enough materials to power the world with renewable energy
We won’t run out of key ingredients for climate action, but mining comes with social and environmental ramifications.
Meet the new batteries unlocking cheaper electric vehicles
A planned factory marks a major milestone in the US for new batteries that enable lower-cost, longer-lasting EVs.
Busting three myths about materials and renewable energy
Here’s what you really need to know about mining and climate change.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.