Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on April 7, 2014

Bookmark and Share

US Navy ‘game-changer’: converting seawater into fuel

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 signficantly shorten the supply chain, a weak link that makes any force easier to attack.

The US has a fleet of 15 military oil tankers, and only aircraft carriers and some submarines are equipped with nuclear propulsion.

All other vessels must frequently abandon their mission for a few hours to navigate in parallel with the tanker, a delicate operation, especially in bad weather.

The ultimate goal is to eventually get away from the dependence on oil altogether, which would also mean the navy is no longer hostage to potential shortages of oil or fluctuations in its cost.

Vice Admiral Philip Cullom declared: “It’s a huge milestone for us.”

Dr. Heather Willauer explains how scientists at the …

Dr. Heather Willauer explains how scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC can  …

“We are in very challenging times where we really do have to think in pretty innovative ways to look at how we create energy, how we value energy and how we consume it.

“We need to challenge the results of the assumptions that are the result of the last six decades of constant access to cheap, unlimited amounts of fuel,” added Cullom.

“Basically, we’ve treated energy like air, something that’s always there and that we don’t worry about too much. But the reality is that we do have to worry about it.”

US experts have found out how to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater.

Then, using a catalytic converter, they transformed them into a fuel by a gas-to-liquids process. They hope the fuel will not only be able to power ships, but also planes.

This April 2, 2014 US Navy handout image shows a beaker …

This April 2, 2014 US Navy handout image shows a beaker of fuel(right) made from seawater by scienti …

That means instead of relying on tankers, ships will be able to produce fuel at sea.

– ‘Game-changing’ technology –

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.”

A general view of a US Navy ship at the Washington …

A general view of a US Navy ship at the Washington Naval Yard on September 17, 2013 in Washington, D …

Now that they have demonstrated it can work, the next step is to produce it in industrial quantities. But before that, in partnership with several universities, the experts want to improve the amount of CO2 and hydrogen they can capture.

“We’ve demonstrated the feasibility, we want to improve the process efficiency,” explained Willauer.

Collum is just as excited.

“For us in the military, in the Navy, we have some pretty unusual and different kinds of challenges,” he said.

“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.”

A crucial benefit, says Collum, is that the fuel can be used in the same engines already fitted in ships and aircraft.

“If you don’t want to re-engineer every ship, every type of engine, every aircraft, that’s why we need what we call drop-in replacement fuels that look, smell and essentially are the same as any kind of petroleum-based fuels.”

Drawbacks? Only one, it seems: researchers warn it will be at least a decade before US ships are able to produce their own fuel on board.

Yahoo AFP

21 Comments on "US Navy ‘game-changer’: converting seawater into fuel"

  1. rockman on Mon, 7th Apr 2014 6:24 pm 

    The Navy has another huge advantage: they don’t have to produce the fuel cheaply: they don’t pay the bill. Cost is never the concern of the military. having the mission succeed is always paramount regardless of monetary cost

  2. Northwest Resident on Mon, 7th Apr 2014 6:33 pm 

    Conveniently not mentioned in this article which I first read on Yahoo an hour or so ago is how much energy is required to produce a specified unit (gallon, quart, etc…) of useable fuel. I think we’ve known how to create hydroden fuel from water for a long time, but have yet to discover a method of separating that hydrogen into a useable fuel that renders an energy surplus versus an energy deficit.

  3. steam_cannon on Mon, 7th Apr 2014 6:37 pm 

    Turning an aircraft carrier into a fuel station would be a neat trick. It would be a game changer for securing fuel supply lines in a war.

    But the concept they are describing is more like a battery then a fuel source since it sounds like they are suggesting using the nuclear aircraft carriers electricity to produce methane and possibly methane-derived hydrocarbons, starting with CO2, Hydrogen and nickel, as in the “Sabatier reaction”. Even if they made more complex hydrocarbons from that, that’s not a fuel source, that’s a fuel carrier like a battery.

    The fuel source is either a nuclear reactor or a huge portable wind or solar farm. I’m going to say it’s most likely a nuclear reactor would be the source of generating electricity for the reaction. And I’m hoping they aren’t suggesting putting mini-nukes on every ship to produce fuel. I don’t think that would be a good idea.

  4. mike on Mon, 7th Apr 2014 6:55 pm 

    Published on April 1st?

  5. Arthur on Mon, 7th Apr 2014 7:44 pm 

    US experts have found out how to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater. Then, using a catalytic converter, they transformed them into a fuel by a gas-to-liquids process.

    Right. But where is the energy input? Solar? Nuclear?

    And how can you produce H2 and CO2 from H2O??

    Where’s the C?

  6. Mark on Mon, 7th Apr 2014 11:52 pm 

    This would also be a great idea for utilizing excess solar energy in the future. Once solar takes over a significant amount of daytime power generation, use the excess for this process in a plant next to the ocean. Then the utility can sell it off as fuel.

  7. Stephen on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:30 am 

    I wonder if the input could be ocean wave motion hitting the boat. There is a lot of energy in ocean waves.

  8. GregT on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:32 am 

    So, while our scientists continue to warn us that we need to find ways to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, and that we have far more in reserve than what we can afford to burn, we still continue to search for more ways to ruin our planet.

    I guess in this case it is justifiable though, after all, what would empire be without death, destruction, and more Wars?

  9. Makati1 on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:50 am 

    Nuclear powered conversion…hmmmm.

    And, do they produce the excess energy to mine, process and deliver the new nuclear fuel? Naw! This is just more BS from our masters.

  10. PrestonSturges on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:59 am 

    The CO2 to liquid fuel process has always cost something like $12 or $15 worth of electricity per gallon of fuel. Getting it into the $3 to $6 range is a huge breakthrough. That’s also in the range of electric vehicles!

    The key here is that this is CO2 that is already in the environment, not coming out of the ground, so if this were done with solar energy it would be close to ZERO emissions and any anthropogenic global warming would be solved.

  11. Davy, Hermann, MO on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 1:17 am 

    Preston, we are AGW toast already. There is no way solar will scale. Solar build out won’t last much more especially with a coming financial correction. The best we can do is learn to live with AGW and simplify in every way possible as BAU jumps the tracks. i wish it were so really I do!

  12. PrestonSturges on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 1:30 am 

    >>There is no way solar will scale.


  13. Davy, Hermann, MO on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 1:55 am 

    Preston, my meaning is the amount of solar we need to make a difference will not be attainable in the current economic conditions. As time goes on the situation only deteriorates.

  14. PrestonSturges on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 2:32 am 


  15. GregT on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 3:26 am 


    Please elaborate on the troll call. Inquiring minds are awaiting your response.

  16. Arthur on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 7:49 am 

    The original article has 2742 comments. From one of them:

    Using an innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), As seawater passes through a sepcially built cell, it is subjected to a small electric current, both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2. The gases are then converted to liquid hydrocarbons by a metal catalyst in a reactor system.

    Now I see, the C comes from the tiny little bit of CO2 dissolved in the seawater and that’s the source for the C, necessary to produce carbon based fuel.

    Obviously, the process needs energy first, more than the fuel will return if burned.

    So I guess the idea is that a vessel with a nuclear reactor on board is going to produce fuel at sea? Makes sense only if the world will run out of fossil fuel before it runs out of uranium.

  17. Kevin Cobley on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 9:26 am 

    This crap sounds like it came from the cold fusion crowd, it’s NON SCIENCE or nonsense.

  18. Newfie on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 10:43 am 

    Water is a kind of ash. It is the ash produced when hydrogen burns. You can’t burn ash and get a net energy gain. Don’t people study thermodynamics anymore ?

  19. Arthur on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:44 pm 

    There was a similar recent ‘breakthrough’ made by the British. Since air contains CO2, you can make fuel from air as well, on the condition that you provide enough energy inputs first:

    It is obvious that the Churchillian ‘English Speaking Peoples’ have great trouble saying goodbye to the fossil fuel age, an age that bestowed them geopolitical supremacy after Napoleon had bitten the dust. They looked for fossil in the soil, under the oceans and now even IN the oceans and IN the air.

    The lesson drawn from the past must be that geopolitical supremacy from now on will shift to that political entity that first manages to go renewable completely.

  20. Nony on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:47 pm 

    Agree with Rock, expense and capacity are the questions. Electrolysis of water is well-understood and even practiced on nuke subs (just to get breathing oxygen). After that, there are some different reactions to make hydrocarbons.

    This development is about freeing up the carrier battle group from dependency on the oiler (which is actually a capital ship, strategically). This is not about something that could work for land-based fuel generation given the current cost of nuclear. We need something like Hubbard’s vision of nuclear from his 1956 paper. Of course, he didn’t discuss price either (but somehow Rock never gigs him for that, since he is our patron saint and it is heresy to abuse him).

  21. Nony on Tue, 8th Apr 2014 12:53 pm 

    If you go to breeder reactors, there’s a heck of a lot of uranium available. And before you get worried about breeders, there’s inherent breeding that goes on in normal reactors. Also normal reactors, the larger they are the more 238, you can tolerate. Also, we use breeders deliberately for generation of weapons plutonium.

    All that said, you don’t even need breeders (yet). Uranium has been much more common than was initially believed and the prices are relatively cheap. Cost of nuclear production has more to do with the plant and the operation of it than the fuel source.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *