Air Conditioning and Climate Change: Could AC Provide a Fix?

Posted 6th June 2019

Air-conditioning units, like many other household electrical items, are often seen as a problem when it comes to protecting the planet. When you read about air conditioning and climate change, it’s usually in the context of the harm that it can cause.

Modern devices are now much more efficient than they used to be, which is great news. But could air conditioning actually be used to reduce the impact of climate change?

That’s the idea being proposed following some exciting new developments in recent months.

New Paper Proposes a Potential Fix

A new paper published in Nature has suggested a potential fix surrounding air conditioning units and climate change.

HVAC systems move a lot of air, and this is also the case for machines that capture carbon dioxide from the air. As such, it is thought that the two technologies could combine. So as the air conditioning system cools the building, it is capturing CO2 from the air at the same time.

So, could we simply combine the two machines? The paper suggests this is possible, helping to make air conditioning more sustainable and effectively using air conditioners as a weapon against global warming.

How It Would Work

A team at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany has been researching the technology and has come up with an idea for a system using modular components that uses renewable energy as its power source. It would extract carbon dioxide and water from the air, convert them into hydrogen and then transform this into liquid hydrocarbon – which can be used as a carbon-neutral fuel.

In effect, this would turn every air conditioning unit into a mini oil well.

They predict that using this system in the MesseTurm in Frankfurt (one of the highest skyscrapers in Europe), they could convert CO2 into 2,000 tonnes of fuel every year.

Could It Really Work?

When could this technology be installed? It’s not clear when it could be put into effect, but the good news is that most of the technology is already available.

A model has already been developed, and they can carry out many of the steps. In a few years, they hope to be able to produce hydrocarbon fuel from an air-conditioning unit.

How It Could Help

If this works out, it could help everyone to reduce their carbon footprint from an activity often seen as having a heavy toll on the environment.

It is an excellent way to provide a fuel that is carbon-neutral, and this could be used to help where wind power and solar offer limited potential. For example, liquid fuel could be used for vehicles that are hard to electrify like planes and ships.

It could also create a revenue stream for businesses. While capturing carbon dioxide has no financial benefit, selling it as fuel certainly does.

Challenges Remain

Some have suggested it’s not really viable and that it would be too difficult to use the technology in a building because it is usually done at scale. There are also challenges like how to store the fuel and how to collect it, which would have to be overcome.

An Exciting Future for Air-Conditioning

This new technology that is being looked into works in theory, and if it comes to fruition it could essentially be used anywhere where there is an air conditioner, including private homes and huge skyscrapers.

However, it’s difficult to know whether it will ever become a reality. Sometimes promising new technology simply cannot become viable for various reasons, but it’s great to know that people are working on solutions.

In the meantime, your focus when it comes to air conditioning and climate change should be on buying an energy-efficient air-conditioning unit and maintaining it correctly to ensure it is as efficient as possible.