Transition to an Emission-free Global Economy by Mid-Century Using Energy Ships

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It is the purpose of this article to alert the readers to the possibility of opening up a new renewable energy source for the extraction of storable energy. It is the wind over the oceans. Fleets of autonomous sailing ships equipped with hydrokinetic turbines and electrolyzers can be operated in wind-rich ocean areas to convert the seawater into compressed hydrogen which then is transported back to shore for use as transportation fuel, for heating and cooking, or reconverted into electricity. Fleets of “energy ships” can be deployed to convert the global economy into an emission-free economy so that the onset of irreversible climate change can be prevented. Land-based and off-shore based renewable power generation encounters significant resource and sociopolitical constraints. In contrast, the wind power available in many ocean areas exceeds by far the global power needs. Therefore, in 2009 we proposed to convert the ocean wind power into storable energy by equipping sailing ships with hydrokinetic turbines. In this article we draw attention to the two major results obtained from the techno-economic studies of this “energy ship concept” over the past nine years. First, displacement-type sailing ships can easily be converted into wind energy capturing ships using commercially available ships, turbines, electrolyzers, and hydrogen compressors and tanks. Second, the power output of displacement ships can be doubled and tripled by developing hydrofoil ships. The energy produced from displacement ships is not yet commercially competitive with conventional renewable energy generators, whereas the hydrofoil ships are likely to be competitive. Given the prediction that irreversible climate changes will start to set in by mid-century, fleets of energy ships can be built within a short time period to avert the onset of catastrophic climate change.