The US Navy says that they have found a way to convert sea water into fuel. If the process works, it may be a probable game- changing solution to one of the world’s biggest challenges. Sea water is in an almost unlimited supply, and at the same time, the globe is faced with ongoing challenges in finding inexpensive fuel sources. The US military maintains a fleet of 15 oil tankers, which are used to supply fuel to other units. The process of re-fueling is delicate, and must be handled very carefully as units, such as jets and helicopters must leave operations or theater for refueling, which can be even trickier in bad weather.
The problem has been examined for decades, with the ultimate goal of reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. The nuclear option posts several disadvantages, such as waste generation and disposal costs, and with associated risks of operation and maintenance. If seawater can be converted to fuel, it could mean that the US navy will no longer be affected by disruptions in the supply of oil.
The US navy scientists discovered a way to extract hydrogen and carbon dioxide from seawater. With the introduction of a catalytic converter, the liquid hydrocarbon is produced in a gas to liquid conversion process. It is hoped that the fuel can be used the Navy’s planes, and ships. In place of the reliance on fuel tankers, the fuel can be produced directly from ships on the ocean.
The US Naval Research Lab has already flown a model airplane on fuel produced from seawater, and at the moment the cost of producing the fuel is around 3 to 6 dollars per gallon, which is very close to the average cost of a gallon of gas.
The scientists are almost unbridled in their enthusiasm, after almost a decade of research.
Dr Heather Willauer explains that the fuel does not appear to be any different from any of the hydrocarbons, and it is indeed a breakthrough to be able to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide from seawater, in the same process. The next step is to find ways to scale the process up for producing quantities for industry, and the experts are trying to find ways to increase the amount of hydrogen and Carbon dioxide gases that are captured in the process.
The military has always been faced with some unique challenges. Planes and ships are re-fueled in mid-air, or at seas, as they cannot afford the inconvenience of going to land-based fueling stations. The game-changing technology can usher in a totally new way of handling the process, and if sea-water is converted to fuel, an even bigger impact can be made possible if the fuel is used on units in the ocean, that are already outfitted for the conversion process.
It may be an insurmountable task to retrofit every ship or aircraft, so having a replacement fuel, with the same properties that can be made inexpensively gives the military a tremendous advantage. At this point there appears to be a serious drawback. The process needs to be refined, and it may take at least ten years before it can be made into a commercial process. The potential is warranted and if sea-water is converted to fuel, it may perhaps provide some benefits for consumers.
By Dale Davidson