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Sea Water Will Soon Fuel US Navy Jets

New data from the Naval Research Laboratory finds that sea water could be a viable source of fuel for military planes.

Karen Summerson
Karen Summerson on October 1, 2012. @KJSummerson

With an eye on sustainable energy efforts and the current $11 billion annual fuel bill for the U.S. Navy, scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have created a process that turns sea water into jet fuel.

While this seems fantastical, the NRL has just released an announcement detailing the transformation process that occurs. Changing from gas to liquid, carbon dioxide is extracted from the sea water, which will produce hydrogen gas. How is this done?  Dr. Heather Willauer, a research assistant, explains:

The reduction and hydrogenation of C02 to form hydrocarbons is accomplished using a catalyst that is similar to those used for Fischer-Tropsch reduction and hydrogenation of carbon monoxide. By modifying the surface composition of iron catalysts in fixed-bed reactors, NRL has successfully improved C02 conversion efficiencies up to 60 percent.

Though it’s complicated jargon, we know it’s working and if successfully implemented could mean unlimited fuel resources for the navy, lower operating costs and reduced fuel transportation costs. The fuel, itself, wouldn’t be any ‘greener.’

Another huge concern this change would address is the current difficulty and danger of refueling at sea — a grim reality, especially if the waters are rough or there’s a storm. A shortage of fuel could endanger the fleet–if the ships and jets couldn’t operate– making sea water a more convenient option.

For more information, check out this press release from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Images via Richard-Seaman, Inhabitat

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