Friday, April 11, 2014

Top Story

U.S. Naval researchers convert seawater into fuel

The U.S. Navy says it has discovered a way to convert seawater into fuel. That means instead of relying on tankers, ships of the future may be able to produce fuel at sea.

Experts at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory have found a way to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater with a specialized catalytic converter, according to Discover magazine. Once the compounds are extracted, they are transformed via this catalytic converter through a gas-to-liquids process into a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

The naval researchers hope the fuel will not only be able to power ships, but also planes. On April 2, the scientists flew a model airplane using fuel from seawater. They predict the cost of jet fuel using this technology would be approximately three to six dollars per gallon.

"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," said Dr. Heather Willauer, a research chemist who has spent nearly a decade on the project. "This is the first time technology of this nature has been demonstrated with the potential for transition, from the laboratory, to full-scale commercial implementation."

Now that they've proven it can work on a small scale, researchers will partner with several universities to find methods to increase the amount of CO2 and hydrogen captured by the process. The Navy predicts the technology could be realized for commercial use within 10 years.

"We've demonstrated the feasibility, we want to improve the process efficiency," explained Willauer.

Currently, the U.S. has a fleet of 15 military oil tankers, and of those, only aircraft carriers and some submarines are equipped with nuclear propulsion.

When any of the other ships need to fuel up, they must pause their current mission to rendezvous with a tanker. The process takes a few hours and lining up with the tanker can be difficult during high seas and stormy weather.

The Navy's ultimate goal is to move away from dependence on oil and its potential shortages and price variability, and this new process takes them one step closer.

"It's a huge milestone for us," said Vice Admiral Philip Cullom. "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."

For more of the Express Tribune story:

For more of the Discover story:

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