A Hub for Hydrogen Innovation

In 2050, hydrogen power and clean energy are a staple of everyday life in the Islands. Imagine if geothermal energy pumps, airborne wind turbines and solar-powered facilities could power the life in our streams, the lights in our homes and the transportation of goods across the ocean.


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Illustration: Laura Trangmar


A tuft of pure steam emerges from the tailpipe of a flatbed truck. Upslope winds deliver it heavenward, to be adopted by the family of soft cirrus clouds that hang aloft Mount Hualālai.


In 2050, hydrogen power complements the array of clean energies that sustain our islands. It is an energy that renews itself within the natural cycle of hydrology: evaporation, condensation, precipitation.


The power required to catalyze the hydrogen production process is entirely generated on-site. Below the ground, geothermal heat is the primary resource, concentrated through closed loop compression systems. On the surface, bladeless wind turbines oscillate in the vortices of sea breezes without harming the rare petrels that fly ashore to nest. And hundreds of meters up, airborne wind turbines hover in persistent, high-altitude air currents, transmitting kinetic energy back to earth via hardwired kite lines.


Even the research and production facility itself is a battery, every facet coated in a translucent membrane that absorbs solar energy. Here, hydrogen innovations are born, to be later factored into sister facilities on three neighboring islands before meeting energy and transportation demands around the planet.


Deriving constituent hydrogen from H2O starts with a process known as electrolysis. Rain catchment systems, wind moisture screens, and stream micro-tributaries channel water through purifiers and into shallow catalytic pools. Hawai‘i engineers on the verge of a global breakthrough in forward osmosis, say that, soon, even ocean water will be a viable, low-effort input.


A strong current of electricity flows through the electrolyzing pools from cathode to anode, splitting water into its base elements. Oxygen (O2), a byproduct, is pumped to feed juvenile fish that swim freely in neighboring incubation tanks. The fingerlings wander into inland fishponds on high tides, and then into the tanks through a series of sluice gates. On a diet of oxygenated water and estuary fauna, they soon grow too fat to return to the ocean, becoming food for the island’s populace.


The resulting hydrogen (H2) gas holds three times more potential energy, by mass, than gasoline. What hydrogen is not needed to support heavy equipment on-site awaits transport in sub-zero storage tanks.


Far above the tanks, 700-foot-long autonomous air freighters appear as distant nimbus clouds adrift. They soar on high atmosphere jet streams, ferrying crates of local goods and produce, a boon to interisland carrying capacity.


At each destination, the air freighters safely dock in a skyport. Sky stevedores pilot lighter-than-air forklifts to unload cargo onto delivery vehicles on the surface. Hydrogen gas is unloaded into local above-ground tanks, where it will fuel delivery vehicles, exit as pure steam emissions, and re-join clouds to return as rain.