U.S. Navy Announces Achievement of Converting Seawater to Fuel

I found an interesting article from Industry Week which discusses an apparent breakthrough at the US Naval Research Laboratory which where they state that they hav discovered a way to convert seawater to fuel that can be used in the navy fleet.

In the article research chemist Dr. Heather Willauer is quoted, saying “”For the first time we’ve been able to develop a technology to get CO2 and hydrogen from seawater simultaneously; that’s a big breakthrough . . . [the fuel] doesn’t look or smell very different.” The method involved therefore creates a hydrocarbon fuel, which would allow it to be used in existing vessels — making it a ‘drop-in’ technology that would obviate the need for major refitting of engines.

Navy Vice Admiral Philip Collum says about the breakthrough, “”We don’t necessarily go to a gas station to get our fuel, our gas station comes to us in terms of an oiler, a replenishment ship.

“Developing a game-changing technology like this, seawater to fuel, really is something that reinvents a lot of the way we can do business when you think about logistics, readiness.”

Apparently navy researchers have only developed this process in lab settings so far, and they will be working with universities to improve the process so the fuel can be developed on an industrial scale. There’s not a lot of detail provided about the technology involved in this process, but the article states that a catalytic converter is used to convert the hydrogen and carbon dioxide into liquid fuel.

The prediction in the article is that it will allow jet fuel to be produced at a cost of $3-6 per gallon, and it will take at least 10 years before on-board fuel production will be possible with this technology.

There is obviously going to be an energy source required in this process. Some proponents of LENR see it as an ideal energy source to help make the production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuel cheap and efficient, which would allow for the continued use of the billions of engines that run on petroleum products. There’s no evidence from this article that the Naval Research Lab is using LENR in this new process, and if they are not, it may be something that they would consider in the future to reduce the cost of this method of fuel production.

UPDATE: Thanks to Yaroslavsk for the link to a NRL press release about this development which includes a video of a model aircraft flying using fuel produced with this new process. (http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2014/scale-model-wwii-craft-takes-flight-with-fuel-from-the-sea-concept)

More technical details are provided:

“CO2 in the air and in seawater is an abundant carbon resource, but the concentration in the ocean (100 milligrams per liter [mg/L]) is about 140 times greater than that in air, and 1/3 the concentration of CO2 from a stack gas (296 mg/L). . .

“NRL has made significant advances in the development of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) synthesis process to convert CO2 and H2 from seawater to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules. In the first patented step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). These value-added hydrocarbons from this process serve as building blocks for the production of industrial chemicals and designer fuels.

“In the second step these olefins can be converted to compounds of a higher molecular using controlled polymerization. The resulting liquid contains hydrocarbon molecules in the carbon range, C9-C16, suitable for use a possible renewable replacement for petroleum based jet fuel.”

  • georgehants

    Have just received my book – An Impossible Invention – from Sweden, with dedication -To georgehants – a man who believes in the TRUTH and not false sienfific “opinion” – Mats Lewan.
    I of course will not read it, but keep it in perfect condition
    I am ready to receive offers for this unique piece of history.
    I suggest offers start at 10,000 and I mean real GBP’s not the shells and beads used by the colonies.
    You think I am joking, Ha

    • artefact

      lucky you. he did not sign mine. I offer my book in exchange of yours. You will be than able to read the book. a win win situation.

      • Iggy Dalrymple

        He didn’t sign mine either but I’ll catch him on his world promotional tour (to sign my 1st edition copy).

      • Omega Z


        I think you had to post it on your order somewhere to get it signed.
        You may have missed that or had ordered your copy before you were aware.

        • artefact

          I was aware and I put it in the messagefield and in another field.
          Never mind.. the book was great.

    • Omega Z


      As soon as I get my 3D printer I’ll print those GBP’s pronto. 🙂

    • Mats Lewan

      Georgehants, maybe if I sell enough books, one day I could afford to buy it back from you!

  • Pekka Janhunen

    Some calculations. Seawater contains about 2 mmol/kg of carbonate type ions (http://www.epoca-project.eu/index.php/restricted-area/documents/doc_download/268-oa-guide-ch1-2010.html). Inorganic carbon contained in 1 cubic metre of seawater suffices to make 30 grams of gasoline or kerosene. To make 1 litre of fuel one has to process 30 cubic metres of water.

    For comparison, the atmosphere contains 400 per million molar fraction of CO2 so that one cubic metre of air (mass 1.225 kg) has enough carbon to make 0.25 grams of fuel. Per mass, air has 7 times more carbon than seawater.

    • Job001

      Presumably process simplicity and cheap input energy would dominate the decision process, rather than source, and extraction from air is energy intensive and progressively more difficult, so maybe half removal or less is energy practical.

      A nuclear reactor running a base load jet fuel process on a Navy air craft carrier comes to mind. In recent conflicts delivered fuel was often 10 times more expensive than at the refinery pump.

  • Chris the 2nd

    This sounds like something that requires a lot of energy to do, think they’ll be very lucky if they actually manage to meet their projections for making it economical.

  • US_Citizen71

    I am one of the proponents of LENR who believe the US Navy plans on using LENR in a big way. There are several projects they have going that will require multi-megawatts of power each to implement on current and new ships. The defensive lasers and railguns are two other examples of energy hungry projects. Curiously no new orders for fission power plants for ships have been made outside of the Virginia class submarines. This leads me to believe that they have found another source of power that they believe can give them multiple megawatts of power reliably and without the fuel convoy from a base that hydrocarbon fuels would require. I do not know whose invention and therefore which flavor of LENR they plan to implement, but obviously from the other projects being developed they have chosen one or more to be their energy source of the future.

    • Omega Z

      It is Likely they would choose more then 1.
      2 at minimum. No one likes to be held hostage to a single supplier. Corporations work the same way.

  • Christopher Calder

    So they are currently using electricity to power the conversion process. If the electricity is produced by LENR instead of fission reactors, then liquid fuels could be made for automobiles at a low cost until LENR is ready to power cars directly. Does that sum it up?

    • Mr. Moho

      Exactly. This won’t solve CO2/greenhouse gas issues (if you believe it is an issue), only energy independence/security ones.

      • US_Citizen71

        I would think it would help a great deal since no new CO2 would be added to the atmosphere / ocean. It is the same strategy and thought process used to promote biofuels. I fall into the CO2 is plant food and Milankovitch cycles are the cause of climate change, but if it is economically feasible to get fuel this way and it helps AGW believers sleep better at night I say go for it.

        • Omega Z


          I’ve been aware of Milankovitch cycles before I ever heard it called Milankovitch cycles.

  • Andreas Moraitis

    A price of $3-$6 per gallon is still a bit too high, if you compare it with the current prices for jet fuel:


    On the other hand, that kind of fuel would be carbon-neutral, and the price would likely drop as soon as it goes into mass production. Anyway, it’s an interesting invention.

    • Mr. Moho

      It’s not carbon neutral. There’s far more CO2 dissolved in the oceans than there’s concentrated in the atmosphere, and that’s where they’re tapping it from. It also does not have an efficiency greater than 1, which means it needs an external energy source to operate, and for mass usage (to reduce or replace oil imports from politically unstable countries) that can only be nuclear.

      • ecatworld

        Maybe the plan to use the nuke plants on Aircraft carriers to provide power for the conversion process

        • Obvious

          I have seen a similar process used on land, powered by a large focused solar array to focus enough heat to split molecules, using atmospheric gasses and water, to produce hydrocarbons.

      • Andreas Moraitis

        The oceans are already over-acidified by carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so that the shells of many marine animals start to dissolve. Removing some carbon from the seawater and releasing it again by combustion is surely not the optimal solution, but in any case better than increasing the overall amount of harmful carbon compounds by burning fossil fuels. If the plants were powered by solar or wind energy – which would be possible in civil applications – the carbon footprint could be kept low. Of course one must consider that the production of the ‘hardware’ is energy-intensive as well, so that you presumably never end up with a completely neutral balance.

        • Omega Z

          I would Note that this is more about Political Correctness then anything else.

      • Pekka Janhunen

        Wikipedia Carbon_cycle says “The oceans’ surface layer holds large amounts of dissolved organic
        carbon that is exchanged rapidly with the atmosphere. The deep layer’s
        concentration of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is about 15% higher
        than that of the surface layer. DIC is stored in the deep layer for much longer periods of time.”
        So if one takes it from surface layer (obvious choice anyway), it should be carbon neutral because the timescale for atmosphere-surface exchange is fast.

      • Omega Z

        Aircraft Fuel. Aircraft=Aircraft Carrier=Nuclear Plant to produce the fuel, So Fossil fuels wouldn’t be involved in producing it.

        Don’t have enough info to determine whether it is reduced CO2 or Neutral.
        What I do know is Reduced CO2 in the Atmosphere would lead to less Plant growth(Food), So we could find ourselves Trading Oil Wars for Food Wars. And there is Science behind CO2 levels & Food Production.

    • I think it is competitive, because of the real cost of fuel through military logistic.

      see that article


      which try to reduce that cost

      see also that total cost estimation for land operation:


      “When an article with a title $400 per gallon gas to drive debate over cost of war in Afghanistan appeared in the Hill in October 2009 it created a lot of noise. “The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan,” the article said.

      “Dr. Kevin T. Geiss, program director for energy security in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment, gives an even higher figure: in some places, analysts have estimated the fully burdened cost of fuel might even be as high as $1,000 per gallon.”

      “Estimates of the fully burdened cost of fuel vary by scenariodepending on how the fuel is delivered. Here are Some estimates: “Fuel Costs $13/Gal—Well to Tank—In Peacetime at Home,” Army Research Lab brief to Defense Science Board, October 1999; “$25 at FEBA+100 km,” Defense Science Board, 2001, p. 16; “Hundreds of Dollars [by air] . . . [600 km] Deep in the Battlespace,” or “At least $40–50 If Overland,” Defense Science Board, 2001, Executive Summary and p. 20; “$100–$600 In Theater Depending on ‘Front Line’ to ‘Back Line’ Separation in Distance, Terrain, Defense, Etc.,” JASON, Reducing DoD Fossil-Fuel Dependence, 2006, p. 30; “$26 By Inflight Tanker,” Defense Science Board, 2001. The fully burdened cost of a gallon of fuel delivered to an aircraft in flight is estimated to be around $20 per gallon.10/1[1]1 The complexity of measuring fuel use and costs is one of the many challenges DOD is facing.

      note that LENr have a very good advantage for logistic since there is few fuel to transport.
      Even for civilian application this may be very interesting, especially for poor corrupted countries with huge logistic challenge and insecurity.

  • georgehants

    Roger, without the “georgehants” name I guess a 100 is about right. 🙂

  • Daniel Maris

    It might not be LENR but it is a stunning achievement!

    It also explains why they might have been so interested in LENR.

  • Broncobet

    It could be unfortunatly well named.

  • Job001

    Both would go together very well, cheap energy used to make carbon neutral fuel for existing infrastructure. Win win!

  • Alan DeAngelis

    “Carbon dioxide reuse” uses iron or zeolite catalysts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer%E2%80%93Tropsch_process

    This is similar to the abiotic synthesis of oil theory that Thomas Gold proposed.
    Freeman Dyson talks about it here (6:08 min.)

    Should I believe Freeman Dyson or Rachel Maddow? (2:19 min.)

    • Alan DeAngelis

      I was just thinking (if you want to dignify it with that word). Perhaps abiotic oil is the precursor to life. If the ends of the carbon chains became fictionalized with polar groups, they could form micelles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micelle that resemble primitive cell membranes. Perhaps Rachel Maddow could tell us if it was easier to make the life that made the oil or was it easier to just make the oil.

  • jousterusa

    A friend of mine called me yesterday and laughing, told me about the Navy’s “advance” in electrolysis. As founder of the HHO Games & Exposition, I know we’ve been splitting seawater to make hydrogen for at least a decade. Nonetheless, I’m glad to see the Navy is going in the right direction!

  • Omega Z


    Only a fool would head into the expanse of space with out some type of weaponry. But Hopefully, we’ll have quit aiming them at ourselves.

    It is my belief that most species will have evolved enough by the time they become space faring, not to be war mongering, but you can’t depend on it. One could himself DEAD wrong.

  • Omega Z

    Thought I would share this thought.

    People here at ECW are always posting things of interest in the energy field. Most if not all of us are aware that over time, Several Entities have developed Very efficient & cost effective electrolysis processes for hydrogen.

    One might Logically think that the Navy is using 1 of these systems. All I can say is, Don’t Count On It.

    One thing I’ve learned in life is the Left hand seldom knows what the Right hand is doing.
    The World is awash in Information & technology going to waste. Even in the Internet Age, It is hard to connect different technologies & groups. Due to there being so much information. The World really does need a clearing house to manage this. It is very likely we have answers to many of the worlds problems & aren’t even aware.

    Years ago I read of 2 different technologies developed at about the same time. A match in heaven. Neither connected to the other & neither ever came to fruitation.

    • BuildItNow

      Probably a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, plenty of excess power most of the time, so, convert some of the excess nuclear power into jet fuel. It does not matter if the process it all the efficient, avoiding refueling ships with jet fuel makes the aircraft carrier more self sufficient. LENR could substitute for conventional nuclear and likewise generate jet fuel, and fuels for cars, truck and trains as well. Perhaps this could be an early use for LENR, depending on how long it would take to scale up fuel production vs retro fitting cars, trucks, trains and planes to LENR.

  • Obvious

    Did you see Mythbusters replicate the supersonic ping pong ball? They achieved nearly Mach 2 .

    • US_Citizen71

      You would probably want to use the railgun equivalent of a bean bag round on such a soft target, so that the kinetic energy is spread out at impact. I would think a thin metal enclosure filled with ball bearings might do the trick. It might make a great anti-aircraft/missile projectile as well.

      • Obvious

        I wonder if you could melt it (add water if needed?), let freeze again, then smash it with a shot.

  • BuildItNow

    Bachcole, you are likely following the true scientific method, observe, recheck, observe until you get a repeating pattern. The repeating pattern is the “only” factor in true science. Theory comes later, often much later and is often progressively replaced by new theories over time.
    I have personally observed significant repeatability with homeopathy for a person who has a skin reaction causing the skin on his hands to peel off. Over many years of taking a certain mix and stopping taking it, a reliable pattern resulted, the homeopathic mix stopped the hands peeling. But, it also seems hard find what work for different situation making it difficult (it seems) to get results for everyone.

    Current “science” is more about influence, business and money, should be called $cien$e. Yes, you could be a $cien$e heretic, I’ll go with that.

    • bachcole

      Dear BuilditNow, what you said was a beautiful thing, not just because you agreed with me about homeopathy, but about the philosophy of science: “observe, recheck, observe until you get a repeating pattern”. When Galileo managed to make it all mathematical, that sort of sped things up and gave it better control and prediction power. But the mathematics is NOT imperative for it to be science, merely the “observe, recheck, observe until you get a repeating pattern”. Homeopathy does not have the mathematics, yet. But people are working on it.

      But that won’t matter for some people because it is not material, and this is what makes it seem impossible to them.