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.”