US Navy Game-Changer: Seawater Turned in Fuel

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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.

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"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. 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," he said.

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

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"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.

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