Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fuel from seawater?

A couple of years ago the US Naval Research Laboratory announced that it was working on a method to break down seawater into carbon dioxide and hydrogen gases, then catalytically convert them into liquid petroleum fuels.  It was hoped to develop a system that could eventually be used by US Navy vessels to derive their own fuel from the seawater in which they moved.

It looks like their research has borne fruit.  Yahoo News reports:

The US Navy believes it has finally worked out the solution to a problem that has intrigued scientists for decades: how to take seawater and use it as fuel.

The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel is being hailed as "a game-changer" because it would significantly shorten the supply chain, a weak link that makes any force easier to attack.

. . .

The predicted cost of jet fuel using the technology is in the range of three to six dollars per gallon, say experts at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who have already flown a model airplane with fuel produced from seawater.

Dr Heather Willauer, an research chemist who has spent nearly a decade on the project, can hardly hide her enthusiasm.

"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," she said, adding that the fuel "doesn't look or smell very different."

Now that they have demonstrated it can work, the next step is to produce it in industrial quantities.

There's more at the link, and in a news release from USNRL.

This is obviously still some years - perhaps a decade or more - away from fleet-wide introduction;  but it offers the possibility of virtual energy independence for conventionally-powered ships.  They'll no longer have to rendezvous with tankers to refuel at sea, or return to harbor for the same purpose (although they'll still need to resupply with food, munitions, spares and other essentials).  I've no doubt navies all over the world are watching developments intently - and some of them are doubtless already trying to figure out how to copy (or just plain steal) the new technology.



Rolf said...

Color me skeptical. Just looking at the energy budget, it doesn't look likely. Where do the get the hydrogen gas? Electrolysis of water? That takes power. CO2 is much lower energy than long chain hydrocarbons, which is why you burn them when you one way and not the other. The talk about neutralizing the seawater and needing other chemicals. Maybe, MAYBE, using nuke or solar power they have a mechanism to use $5 of materials and energy to extract/create a gallon of fuel, but no way will it be space and material efficient and energy efficient to use aboard ships to really cut the supply line.

Old NFO said...

This is a basic step... it will be a LONG time before it's a viable product... Just sayin...

Pete said...

I agree with Rolf. The chemistry is wrong if your goal is to "create" energy. I expect they are seeing it as a way to change nuclear energy into jet fuel for logistical purposes, despite the fact that it is extremely wasteful energy-wise. If that's the case, this technology will probably only ever be seen in a nitche market where transporting fuel is more expensive/difficult than mixing seawater with other chemicals and cracking it.

juvat said...

UMMM? Hasn't anybody paid attention? HELLOOOO? C02 = Global Warming? You just wait til the Sierra Club and Greenpeace hear about this! You evil Navy guys will be in BIG trouble then!

Anonymous said...

Just another alternative fuels boondoggle. It will most likely result in more fuel being carried out to the fleet to create their seawater fuel and the cost will be closer to $30 a gallon when fielded.

Anonymous said...

Using energy from a hydrocarbon fueled powerplant to in turn make more hydrocarbon fuel is trying to create a perpetual energy machine, which is impossible due to those pesky laws of thermodynamics.

I believe the goal is for nuclear powered carriers to use surplus electricity to convert sea-water to jet fuel. An FA18 Super Hornet carries over 7 tons of fuel internally and since the fleet carriers have 72+ aircraft they need a lot of fuel.

Using the carrier as a fuel refinery it could theoretically refuel its own aircraft indefinitely with no need for a fuel ship. If the carrier has enough capacity it could even fuel
its escorts. Perhaps a dedicated fuel ship with nuclear powerplants could be an integral part of every carrier group in the future?


Will said...

THIS makes me wonder if some natural version of it is where oil itself originates.