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Monday, April 7, 2014

Navy Develops Technique to Produce Fuel from Seawater

From PhysOrg:
Navy researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, demonstrated proof-of-concept of novel NRL technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon -a component of NRL's novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process that uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock - the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.
 
Using an innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), 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.
The Daily Mail reports:
The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel is being hailed as 'a game-changer' because it would allow warships to remain at sea for far longer. 
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.
 
The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.
One of the advantages of this fuel is that it would not require the conversion of existing engines--the fuel is fungible with current fuels.

Although not discussed in the articles, there is the issue of how much energy is used to convert the fuel. Although the articles suggest this will allow the Navy to forego oilers, this seems nonsensical. Only nuclear powered ships would have the excess electricity to power the process. While this would free a nuclear aircraft carrier from having to get jet fuel from a oiler, it doesn't alleviate the need to get the fuel to a non-nuclear ship somehow, either through oilers or directly fueling from the nuclear powered ship where the fuel making apparatus is located.

On a side note, however, this may prove to be another nail in the lid of OPEC's coffin.

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