JUN 24, 2019 10:12 PM PDT

Solar methanol islands

A study published earlier this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences takes the term futuristic to the next level. Imagine: floating sea-bound solar farms capable of turning carbon dioxide in the ocean into fuel. The researchers behind the idea are calling them “solar methanol islands”.

“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,” said co-author Bruce Patterson, a physicist at the University of Zurich. “This is just one piece of a mosaic.”

By the mosaic, Patterson means that this isn’t the be-all-end-all solution to fixing climate change – but it could be an important part of it. The methanol produced from the floating solar farms could be used to as an alternative to jet fuel, long-haul trucks, ships and non-electrified railroad systems. “We have to do something like this if we want to save the planet but still be able to fly airplanes,” Patterson commented. "We have to do everything we can to save the planet, and this will hopefully be a small part of it."

So how would they work? As the paper details, the solar farms would look like about 70 circular solar panels making up the “islands” over an square kilometer. Each solar farm would be capable of producing more than 15,000 tons of methanol a year (that could fuel a Boeing 737 for over 300 round-trip flights between New York City and Phoenix). As NBC News reports, “Electricity produced by the panels would be used to split water molecules into hydrogen, which would then react with CO2 extracted from seawater to produce methanol.” In an alternative system, the floating solar farms could also be used to generate electricity.

Will solar methanol islands soon be dotting our coasts? Photo: Pixabay

Because methanol is cleaner than fossil fuels, it is a better option than burning coal, for example. And the carbon dioxide that releases into the atmosphere that ends up going back to the ocean, could be reused by the floating solar farms over time.

Sources: NBC News, PNAS

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
The Surprising Way Honeybees Protect Hives from Hornets
DEC 10, 2020
The Surprising Way Honeybees Protect Hives from Hornets
"Murder hornets," more commonly known as giant hornets, might be new to North America, but in their native ran ...
DEC 16, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Human-nature interactions increase during the pandemic, particularly in women
DEC 16, 2020
Human-nature interactions increase during the pandemic, particularly in women
In an effort to understand how people have been turning to nature to fulfill their needs during the pandemic, researcher ...
JAN 13, 2021
Plants & Animals
Dwarf Giraffes Observed for the First Time Ever
JAN 13, 2021
Dwarf Giraffes Observed for the First Time Ever
The name “dwarf giraffe” certainly seems like an oxymoron, which is why scientists were shocked to observe t ...
JAN 21, 2021
Plants & Animals
Gray Whale Population Declines by 24%
JAN 21, 2021
Gray Whale Population Declines by 24%
The gray whale population along the east coast of the Pacific Ocean has undergone a significant decline. Earlier this we ...
FEB 19, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Where is fern diversity most prevalent in the world and why should we care?
FEB 19, 2021
Where is fern diversity most prevalent in the world and why should we care?
Why are some areas of the world more biodiverse than others? In an effort to understand what factors contribute to the u ...
APR 15, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Tracking phytoplankton to understand nutrient stress in the oceans
APR 15, 2021
Tracking phytoplankton to understand nutrient stress in the oceans
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have developed a high-detail map to track phytoplankton in the ocean ...
Loading Comments...