The growing concern over climate change created a need to shift towards less polluting forms of energy. Renewable energy, derived from Earth’s natural resources, is crucial to achieving this goal. However, many variables affect the rate and efficiency of energy generation and consume land resources. For instance, the current use of solar panels cannot provide consistent energy output because of seasonal changes and irregular weather patterns. Conversely, hydrogen can be stored and possesses the highest energy content for any conventional fuel by weight with minimal environmental impact. Currently, lithium batteries are standard for storing solar energy. However, they lose charge with time and are discarded as hazardous waste after many uses. This proposal introduces a power-to-gas technology, where solar panels split purified ocean water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2).
Similar to the concept of oil rigs, large floating solar panel islands can be placed in calm oceans, such as the equatorial area of the Pacific ocean, to capture solar energy for (1) running the desalination system, (2) photochemically splitting the purified water into hydrogen and oxygen gas, and (3) pressurizing the hydrogen gas into large tanks for collection by large vessels traveling back to the mainland. The artificial islands contain enough living space for maintenance workers and a water treatment facility equipped with reverse osmosis and electro-deionization system to produce salt-free water.
Hydrogen gas has vast fuel cell applications in transportation, power generation plants, and the synthesis of many chemicals and materials. Recent research breakthroughs reported that carbon nanotubes could enhance solar panel efficiency from 20% to 80%, which increases the economic viability of this project. A high initial fixed cost associated with constructing the island of solar panels and procuring hydrogen storage tanks is expected. Solar panels present the highest cost contributing factor, with a typical lifespan of 25 to 30 years. By using nanotechnology-based solar panels, this lifespan and performance can be increased further. The overall required costs can be minimized through bulk-buying for constructing the artificial floating island. The energy required to power New York City was used as a basis for energy recovery analysis, given that New York City (NYC) uses the most energy worldwide at approximately 11,000 MWh per day. With the current power plant efficiency being 33% and solar panels’ efficiency being 20%, over 120 billion kJ of power is required to produce 850 tons of hydrogen from 7700 tons of water per day. An area of 34 square kilometer of solar panels is needed, which equates to less than 3% of the area of NYC. Following the initial implementation, minimal capital expenditure is required to maintain this semi-autonomous operation. In an ever-expanding population, the shrinking land area has proven valuable for farming and providing habitats for different species. The ocean provides the necessary space for energy harvesting without nuisance to human or animal wildlife. Successful implementation of this technology will passively provide green energy for civilization for years to come.