The Navy Wants To Use Seawater For Fuel

Driving around in unfamiliar territory, searching for a gas station while your gauge hovers just above E is maddening and stressful. But imagine experiencing that same feeling while manning a giant aircraft carrier through foreign -- and sometimes hostile -- seas. To make fuel easier to come by, the US Navy is working on a way to produce it from ocean water.

Scientists at the Naval Research Lab are trying to extract the carbon dioxide from the salty sea, produce hydrogen gas from it, and then turn it into jet fuel using a gas-to-liquids conversion process. They say it'll be cheaper and won't hurt the environment. Plus, there's plenty of carbon dioxide in seawater -- almost 140 times as much as in the air. Here's how the process works:

In the first step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 per cent and decrease unwanted methane production from 97 per cent to 25 per cent in favour of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). In the second step these olefins can be oligomerized (a chemical process that converts monomers, molecules of low molecular weight, to a compound of higher molecular weight by a finite degree of polymerization) into a liquid containing hydrocarbon molecules in the carbon C9-C16 range, suitable for conversion to jet fuel by a nickel-supported catalyst reaction.

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Plenty to convert into fuel, though. [Navy Research Lab]

Image credit: Ivan Cholakov/Shutterstock

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    At least try to post it here first, even if it is a US story.

    Thats a rather large no smoking sign on that vessel, chain smokers onboard?

    it looks like its sitting pretty low in the water too

    Perhaps it is carrying a lot of flammable material?

    and how much energy does this process take and where does this energy come from???

      My guess is the the energy needed would be the iron based catalyst mentioned. These would most likely deplete and need to be replaced / refurbished. So they are still carrying a fuel source but a more complicated and hopefully a more energy efficient and environmentally one. I think that all weapons of war should be kinder to the environment and the world that we live (and are being killed) in.

        Isn't the point of a catalyst that it doesnt deplete? Or it happens at a very very slow rate. I could be wrong tho...

          Yeah, it doesn't deplete, but... it does get poisoned and the effectiveness drops (so it does have to be replaced). This is not what Wayne means though, so you are correct.

        Catalysts are not consumed in reaction... I'm guessing that they use some other fuel to do the work, or HARNESS THE POWER OF THE SUN!

          Or the fact it's a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, yeah...

          How much CO2 is there even in sea water?

            It would be in parts per million concerntration

      Say... don't Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers have..... Nuclear reactors on board?
      just think... instead of having a Oiler ship drop off supply's for the Aircraft Carrier you could refuel the Oiler ship and then they could refuel the other non nuclear ships.

        The fuel would be for the jets, hence why they are trying to make jet fuel.

          ok so only the surplus would go to the oiler.

      The beauty of nuclear powered aircraft carriers, I suppose!

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