Creative thinking: Researchers propose solar methanol island using ocean CO₂

Creative thinking: Researchers propose solar methanol island using ocean CO₂

Enlarge / Artist’s rendering of solar methanol islands. (credit: Novaton)

Imagine an open ocean, Sun beating down overhead, with 70 islands of solar panels, each 100 meters (328 feet) in diameter, bobbing silently out toward the horizon.

The cluster of islands is churning out electricity and sending it to a hard-hulled ship that acts as an oceanic factory. This factory uses desalinization and electrolysis equipment to extract hydrogen gas (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the surrounding ocean water. It then uses these products to create methanol, a liquid fuel that can be added into, or substituted for, transportation fuels. Every so often, a ship comes to offload the methanol and take it to a supply center on land.

This plan was outlined in a PNAS paper published this week, which suggests it’s an option for addressing the global economy’s over-reliance on liquid fossil fuels. 

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Making industrial chemicals “green” requires a lot of renewable electricity

Making industrial chemicals “green” requires a lot of renewable electricity

Enlarge / Huntsman Olefins petrochemical industry, manufacturer of ethylene and propylene, Wilton, Teesside, UK. (credit: Photo by Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

When we think about climate change, we most often think about emissions from two sectors: energy and transportation. But industry makes a big contribution to climate change, too. Industrial emissions come from a lot of different things, including the manufacture of common chemicals. Often, these chemicals are made by reforming fossil fuels using heat that’s also provided by burning fossil fuels.

Overall, the chemical industry consumes about 10 percent of global final energy, according to the International Energy Agency.

In a recent PNAS paper, researchers from universities in Germany and California tried to estimate how effectively the chemical industry could decarbonize and whether such a decarbonization is likely.

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