Huge floating solar farms, dubbed as “Solar methanol islands”, could help reduce the dependence on fossil fuels which emit damaging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, scientists suggested in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the study, the floating farms would consist of clumps including around 70 circular solar electricity-generating “islands”, covering an area of roughly one square kilometer, that would break water molecules into hydrogen which produces methanol when merged with CO2 derived from seawater.
Methanol burns more cleanly than fossil fuels, and the carbon dioxide released into the air would return to the ocean to be reused again by the floating solar panels.
“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 Bruce Patterson, a physicist at the University of Zurich and co-author of the research.
The extracted methanol would be used as an alternative to aircraft fuel, with Patterson saying that a single floating solar farm is expected to produce more than 15,000 tons of methanol a year; enough to load a Boeing 737 airliner on more than 300 round-trip flights of approximately 3,000 kilometers.
“We’d mostly want to use the fuel in airplanes, long-haul trucks, ships and non-electrified railroad systems,” Patterson noted.
“We have to do something like this if we want to save the planet but still be able to fly airplanes,” he said, adding, "We have to do everything we can to save the planet, and this will hopefully be a small part of it."