Imagine a HVAC system that captures cardon dioxide and water from the air to be converted into renewable hydrocarbon fuels that can take the place of fossil fuels.

This futuristic approach is a reality today, although on a small scale with little impact – for now. The challenge is to scale up the processes to create a “circular” CO2 economy that uses chemical processes to create renewable synthetic oil that substitutes for non-renewable fossil-based oil, while eliminating emission of CO2 and its impact on global warming.

retrofitting air conditioning systems

A technical approach to decentralized synthesis of hydrocarbon fuels based on CO2 is possible today by retrofitting air conditioning systems in houses, apartments and office buildings to capture CO2 and H2O from the air. Electrolysis of H2O can produce hydrogen (H2), which can be combined with captured CO2 to produce hydrocarbon fuels via Fischer-Tropsch catalysis or related approaches.A technical approach is possible today by retrofitting air conditioning systems in houses

A paper published in the journal Nature Communications highlights the possibilities under the title “Crowd Oil Not Crude Oil.”

The paper includes a preliminary technical analysis for three practical use cases – the Frankfurt Fair Tower office building, a typical grocery store and low-energy houses.

crowd-owned production

The idea could be deployed in individual production units in a home or business; an alternative would be larger crowd-owned production facilities for a whole neighborhood.

The paper states: “This analysis impressively demonstrates that air conditioning systems already in place, if equipped with the appropriate technology, could capture a very significant amount of carbon dioxide.” The envisioned model of “crowd oil” from solar refineries “enables people to take control and collectively manage global warming and climate change, rather than depending on the fossil power industrial behemoths.”Companies have already commercialized technology to capture CO2 directly from the air

Companies have already commercialized technology to capture CO2 directly from the air, for generating H2 electrochemically from H2O, and even for synthesizing gas by converting H2 and CO2 into hydrocarbon or oxygenated fuels. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and expanding to a wider market.

CO2 capture functionality

Adding CO2 capture functionality to an air conditioning system is not difficult and has already been patented as a way of lowering energy requirements.

Using AC to make hydrocarbon fuels, if adapted globally, could be the “AC 2.0” of the 21st century.

In fact, the direct conversion of solar radiation, CO2 and water into hydrocarbon fuels may become a competitive approach in the future.

Local generation

Local generation of chemical energy sources is especially attractive in regions with underdeveloped infrastructure, such as remote locations and difficult-to-reach islands. Avoiding the need to transport energy sources over long distances also saves energy and costs.There may not be a public appetite for storing renewable hydrocarbon fuels in empty spaces

There are possible drawbacks and obstacles on the way to realizing this approach. For example, there may not be a public appetite for storing renewable hydrocarbon fuels in empty spaces, such as depleted oil wells. Possible contamination of nearby water supplies would need to be investigated. Collective action would also be required among diverse societies around the world. 

However, there is appeal to using technology to empower people to become energy independent while helping to solve problems such as greenhouse gases, global warming and climate change.

For the HVAC market, the idea suggests one of many possible ways the industry could be radically different in coming decades. It may seem visionary, but the current rapid pace of technology development suggests the future may come sooner than we think.

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Lessons From The Past: The Value Of Ventilation In A Pandemic
Lessons From The Past: The Value Of Ventilation In A Pandemic

If history truly repeats itself, might we learn lessons from the past – even lessons about managing a novel coronavirus that upends our way of life and changes the world forever? The most commonly cited parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic is the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Both diseases are caused by viruses that had not been seen before. In both cases, no one had immunity to a highly infectious germ that was spread through respiratory droplets. Both outbreaks occurred in multiple waves over several years. Furthermore, in both cases, it became clear that ventilation, fresh air, open spaces and sunlight are useful factors in promoting good health. Fresh Air Movement During the time of the Spanish flu, there were signs posted in buses and throughout New York that advised: "Keep your bedroom windows open [to] prevent influenza, pneumonia [and] tuberculosis." There was even a national campaign known as the “Fresh Air Movement,” calling for people to be outside more, and urging greater ventilation indoors. The movement included a kind of traveling show that spread the word about the “national poison,” which was the result of people breathing stale air inside closed rooms. These concerns predated by decades our enthusiasm for “indoor air quality.” In became common after 1918 to position radiators providing steam heat under open windows to combine warmth with fresh air, even on the coldest of days.   The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza It was also common practice by 1918 to place the sick outside in tents or in specially designed open wards But the advantages of fresh air go back even further, as described in a 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) titled “The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza.” During the 1918 pandemic, as today, many cities banned public assembly, closed schools, isolated those infected and mandated the wearing of face masks. It was also common practice by 1918 to place the sick outside in tents or in specially designed open wards, according to the AJPH article. The practice dates back to English physician John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815), who was among the first advocates of the “open-air method.” The 1800s saw emergence of tuberculosis sanitoriums, which treated the lung disease with a combination of fresh air, gentle exercise in the open, nutrition, and a minimum of medicines. Lack of ventilation Spending time in well-ventilated houses in the country became seen as superior to patients being confined to warm, badly ventilated rooms to protect them from the supposedly harmful effects of cold air. Lack of ventilation forced patients to breathe foul air, contaminated with germs, over and over. Research later confirmed the importance of measures to prevent influenza virus from spreading through buildings. Improvements in air-handling equipment, portable filtration units, and introduction of physical barriers and other partitions or doors also provided protection. These lessons were clear long before the advent of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Their successful deployment during the pandemic have further supported their value. importance of HVAC Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, there were plenty of historical precedents However, lockdowns during the pandemic have also tended to keep the population closed up in buildings, sometimes with less-than-adequate ventilation and access to fresh air. In retrospect, some of those decisions seem regrettable.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, there were plenty of historical precedents. Copious research over the years supported the best approaches to stemming the spread of the virus, although it took time for historical insights to work their way into the general practice implemented in the current pandemic. There is also historical precedent for the importance of HVAC in the current pandemic. Ventilation and fresh air have become higher priorities, as has the HVAC market’s role in providing a safer indoor climate with minimal disease spread.

Pandemic Spotlights Need To Balance Costs While Improving Air Quality In Schools
Pandemic Spotlights Need To Balance Costs While Improving Air Quality In Schools

Attitudes about indoor air quality need to change, especially given the current pandemic that forces people to spend most of their time indoors. But addressing the pandemic through increased ventilation and better indoor air quality can be expensive. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation, has spent $6 million on HVAC upgrades and new air filters in response to the pandemic and expects to pay about $1.7 million a month for ongoing inspections and filter replacements. Updating & Improving HVAC Systems Updating HVAC systems to minimize virus spread has been an expensive proposition all around. Some school districts in California report the costs are insurmountable. Sometimes seeking to replace or update an HVAC system opens a can of worms: Electrical systems must be rewired, asbestos must be removed, and/or an expensive roof needs to be replaced. Schools in low-income areas are especially likely to be in poor condition, and unable to afford improvements. Some school districts have used money from the federal CARES Act – a $2 trillion federal economic package passed in March – to make ventilation improvements. Hope remains that additional state and/or federal money will be available, but funding is still likely to be inadequate. Airborne Transmission Study showed that some classrooms had air change rates below 0.5 changes per hour The airborne transmission was initially underplayed as a means of spreading the novel coronavirus. There was more emphasis on the dangers of touch during the early days of the pandemic. However, the airborne (aerosol) spread is now believed to make up about 75% of transmissions. A group of 239 scientists from around the world advocated more action to address aerosol spread in a July 2020 open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO). The concern is a global challenge. For example, a survey of 20 classrooms in the United Kingdom, carried out by National Air Quality Testing Services (NAQTS), revealed very low air change rates that could increase the risk of virus transmission. The study showed that some classrooms had air change rates below 0.5 changes per hour (3 to 5 changes per hour would be desirable). Even small increases in flow rate could reduce the risk of infection significantly. Raising airflows from zero to 100 cu m/hour cuts the risk by up to a third, according to NAQTS. Fresh Air Ventilation & Filtration The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised the UK Government last fall of a need to ensure undisrupted education for children of all ages. A critical part of keeping children in school is clear guidance and support packages, including better ventilation and air filtration, particularly through winter. The German government advises schools to open their windows for at least five minutes every hour Other countries can learn a lot about the value of opening windows to allow in more fresh air from the Germans. For years, Germans have habitually opened their windows twice a day, even in winter. In fact, “lüften,” or airing a room, is among the cheapest and most effective ways of decreasing the spread of the coronavirus. The German government advises schools to open their windows for at least five minutes every hour; for example, when classes are changing. Improving Indoor Air Quality Airing of rooms is a likely factor in the lower number of coronavirus cases reported in Germany compared to, say, the United Kingdom. In the end, improving indoor air quality involves some combination of letting in more fresh air, upgrading air filtration systems, and installing technologies such as UV light to kill pathogens. However, implementing these measures only mitigates the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Some risk remains.

What Technologies And Trends Will Define HVAC In 2021?
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The pandemic of 2020 presented unique challenges to the HVAC market, and in many instances, responding to those challenges relied on technical innovation. It’s safe to say that the pandemic accelerated several technology trends, redirected others, and overall raised the stakes in the industry’s ongoing challenge to meet customer needs across a wide spectrum. But what comes now? We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable to weigh in on this question: What technologies and trends will define the HVAC industry in 2021?

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