solar panels at sea

Solar out at Sea: Solar Plans its Next Stop

Could solar be venturing off land and onto the ocean surface?

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) recently published plans for solar methanol islands, a way of using renewable energy to potentially recycle atmospheric carbon dioxide into synthetic fuels. The global economy is heavily reliant on liquid fossil fuels and the plan suggests that the implementation of solar methanol islands could be an option to address this and mitigate the effects of climate change.

How the islands would work

The main prediction of these solar methanol islands is that they will be capable of turning CO2 in the seawater into fuel. 

The PV panels that the islands are expected to use would source solar energy to create electricity. The electricity obtained would then power hydrogen production facilities to create a renewable supply of fuel.

What the islands would look like

Each solar island is predicted to be made up of about 70 circular solar panels, each 100 meters in diameter, and placed in regions with enough sunlight, moderate wave action, low risk of severe weather conditions and shallow depths to allow the islands to be secured to the ocean floor, the paper details. 

The numbers

Approximately 170,000 of these solar islands would be needed to produce enough green methanol to replace all fossil fuels used in long-haul transportation (for example jet fuel, ships and non-electrified railroad systems) according to the researchers.

It is estimated that each island would be able to produce more than 15,000 tons of methanol per year.

It should be noted that the plan is not yet at the prototype stage. It is still in the early developmental stage with many questions yet to be answered.

However, it certainly exemplifies the positive changes that renewable energy can make.

Co-author of the article, Bruce Patterson, said:

“This is just one of the many things we should be doing to control climate change, along with having better insulation in our homes, having higher efficiency in car engines and driving electric vehicles.”

Source – https://www.pnas.org/content/116/25/12212