Seawater could be a future alternative fuel option

April 23, 2014 1 By Amanda Giasson
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Navy technology has made jet fuel water from ocean water.

Recently, a demonstration took place involving a scale combustion engine WWII airplane model that successfully flew using alternative fuel that originated from water from the sea.

The plane was powered by liquid hydrocarbon fuel that was developed from the world’s most plentiful carbon resource.

The United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) developed the process that resulted in the fuel, a process that took many years of research. The final product that was developed is a combination of liquid hydrocarbons, which may one day become a practical alternative for the majority of fuels that are petroleum based.

The study that was conducted by the navy, which involved subjecting seawater to an oxidation-reduction cycle that produced hydrogen and carbon dioxide, signified a step forward in hydrogen gas generation efficiency. The research helped to prove that it is feasible to obtain from the ocean the precursor to hydrocarbon fuel.

The creation of this alternative fuel is a two-step procedure. The first step produces carbon dioxide and hydrogen, while the second step involves mobilizing these gases into liquid hydrocarbons. They are added into a second cell that utilizes a proprietary catalyst that is iron-based. This catalyst gradually mobilizes chains of diverse lengths. The chains can be joined together more than once to create the preferred chain length.

One drawback of this second step is that the process results in methane production, an undesired waste product. Despite this setback, researchers have found a way to lower the production of methane and can create additional fuel utilizing conserved carbon.

This alternative fuel can be used by current engines without engines requiring modification.

The Navy technology has many advantages. For starters, the fuel that is produced is useable by most major gasoline or jet fuel engines and these engines do not need to be adjusted for it. Furthermore, there is copious amount of ocean water, which makes it a potentially viable source for replacing some modern fuels.

However, regardless of this benefit, making fuel form seawater using the current technology is not a cleaner alternative to present modern fuels, nor is it more carbon-neutral. Compared to the air, concentrations of carbon dioxide in water are greater by as much as five times. Another issue is that currently a gallon of jet fuel used by the military is approximately $3, whereas one gallon of the alternative fuel is $6. Thus, as it stands now, it is unlikely that fossil fuels will be replaced by seawater in the near future.