Though air conditioners are currently designed to eat up power, a reworking of their structure could make them part of the solution to an impending climate catastrophe. Having been refitted with existing technology that enables the cooling units to collect carbon dioxide and water vapor from the ambient air, these new A/C units could convert harmful gases and particles into “synthetic liquid fuels that can be used in place of the fossil fuel-based stuff that has put us in this climate mess in the first place,” according to CNET.
The idea of converting CO2 into something more environmentally friendly and practically utilitarian has been toyed with by Canada’s Carbon Engineering, whose carbon-capturing plants attracted investment from Bill Gates, and Alabama’s Global Thermostat who are attempting to retrofit industrial smokestacks to capture carbon dioxide at the source. The idea that the photosynthesis-esque process can be done commercially or even inside ordinary people’s homes, through A/C however, is groundbreaking.
“Anecdotally, A/C is amongst the most useful inventions of the twentieth century,” wrote researchers from Germany and Canada in a letter published in a journal called Nature Communications. “With continued global warming, the prevalence of A/C will likely become more pervasive. Perhaps the use of A/C for making hydrocarbon fuels, if adapted globally as suggested, could be A/C 2.0 of the twenty-first century.”
Carbon-converting A/C units are not commercially available quite yet, but the researchers did lay out a plan to help quickly develop such a system that could drastically reduce the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration, which researchers say may be at the highest point in human history and perhaps as far back as 3 million years.
According to the authors of the Nature Communications letter, an A/C capture system installed in Germany’s Frankfurt Fair Tower could remove over a ton of carbon dioxide from the air every hour. Implemented in Germany’s 25,000 supermarkets, the A/C systems could capture around 1,000 tons an hour.