Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto
U of T Chemistry News

Air Conditioning 2.0: Keeping cool could aid carbon reductions

April 30, 2019
by Dan Haves

Professor Geoffrey Ozin proposes a move from crude oil to “crowd oil”. In a perspective published in Nature Communications this week, co-authored by Roland Dittmeyer of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Prof. Ozin has outlined a greener way forward for air conditioning.

He proposes re-inventing air conditioners with renewable-energy powered, existing CO2 reduction technology to directly convert carbon dioxide and water in the air flow into storable liquid fuels.

The vision of AC 2.0 is one of my coolest and greenest contributions in 50 years of basic-directed research, while working at U of T,” says Prof. Ozin. “It is potentially the most significant technologically and important sociologically, with respect to sustainable solutions to climate change, as the world gets hotter and hotter and humanity wants to keep cooler and cooler.”

Current air conditioning technology is a major burden on the planet, says Prof. Ozin. With a growing population and a warming climate, it is estimated that air conditioning units will nearly triple in number by the year 2050. And by 2100, it is estimated that air conditioners alone will account for a 0.5 degree rise in global temperatures.

“Negative carbon emission technologies are needed to limit global warming,” says Prof. Ozin. “Although there is public and scientific interest in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a lack of industrial incentives and political action mean viable removal strategies at the billion-ton scale needed to curb warming have not been realized.”

This is where “AC 2.0” and “crowd oil” comes in. By using existing technology to design air conditioning systems with the capability to capture carbon dioxide and water and convert them into fuels it could incentivize individuals to collect ‘synthetic oil’ for their own use. This is not dissimilar to the movement towards “crowd electricity”.

“If our vision of fuel generating air conditioning systems were to be applied at a global scale, it could enable the production and sale of synthetic fuels through an equitable distributed social scheme similar to the generation of renewable electricity from household solar panels.”

While there is still work to be done to make “crowd oil” a reality, an experimental proof-of-concept plant is under development in Germany and will soon be in operation.