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.

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