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Science Thursday, September 27th 2012 at 8:35 am

U.S. Navy Wants to Use Seawater to Make Jet Fuel, Feels Like Something Out of Science Fiction

Refueling ships while they’re still at sea is a rather expensive maneuver. Even so, it’s not like there’s a renewable resource just sitting around waiting to be converted into fuel for these oceanic behemoths. That’s not what scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory think, though. They’re developing a process to convert all that seawater sitting right off the starboard side into jet fuel. It’s hard to say how efficient it might be on a large scale, but it has to be better than lugging the necessary fuel out there.

Essentially, they’re looking at a process to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce hydrogen gas (H2) from the seawater. They would then convert these into jet fuel with a “gas-to-liquids process.” They’ve already demonstrated the ability to get to the point where all they need to do is make jet fuel, so it’s really only a matter of time.

Using an electrochemical acidification cell, they managed to get both the carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater before then converting the two into hydrocarbons that are the precursor to jet fuel. The exact process is rather complicated, but the lab manages to explain it fairly succinctly:

In the first step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production from 97 percent to 25 percent in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins).

In the second step these olefins can be oligomerized (a chemical process that converts monomers, molecules of low molecular weight, to a compound of higher molecular weight by a finite degree of polymerization) into a liquid containing hydrocarbon molecules in the carbon C9-C16 range, suitable for conversion to jet fuel by a nickel-supported catalyst reaction.

Science fiction becomes reality once again.

(via U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, image via Wikipedia)

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