Well known for their code cracking, its seems the U.S Navy may have cracked the code on energy independence - converting seawater to fuel.
The Department of Defense is responsible for an estimated 93% of government fuel consumption. If the DoD was its own country, it would be 58th in over all energy consumption, and they are taking the need for alternative sources of power very seriously. In the past ten years portions of military funding to each branch have been allocated and dedicated to finding alternative fuel and power sources that could be harnessed both at home and abroad. Recently, the U.S Navy has announced what could be the biggest break through in alternative fuel to date.
For the past 8 years the chemists at the Naval Research Laboratory have been working to prefect technology to convert ordinary sea water into fuel that could power aircraft carriers and fighter jets.
Though it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, Dr. Heather Willauer, who heads up the research team, lays down the facts,
“We’ve developed a technology at the Naval Research Laboratory that does indeed process seawater,” Dr. Willauer said in an interview with Jessica Tozer who writes for Armed with Science, the U.S Defense Departments official science blog,” it pulls the components, carbon dioxide and hydrogen, from the seawater. Then we take those components and we recombine then over a NRL-developed catalyst to make, essentially, designer fuel.”
In 2013 this designer fuel was used to power an RC version of the famed P-51s of the celebrated Red Tail Squadron.
” We can produce, depending on the transition metal on the catalyst-for example iron, cobalt, nickel, copper- you can make methanol, you can make olefins that could be converted to jet fuel, you can make natural gas, all kinds of neat things. Its amazing,” – Dr.Willauer
Of course, as with any great advancement in technology, there are some draw backs. For instance, according to Dr. Willauer it takes about 23,000 gallons of seawater to create one gallon of fuel and NRL are still about 7 to ten years away from the technology being applied on a mass scale.
Still, the net-zero carbon footprint from converting seawater to fuel, and the fact that said fuel can be created on a needs basis add to the excitement the project has instilled. While the project will one day allow aircraft carriers to refuel remotely using the water all around them, there has yet to be talk of civilian applications, though it seems logical to assume the technology would eventually be used by all sectors of society.