Jet fuel from seawater

No, this is not some crazy science fiction plot line to save the world. This is real. The US Naval Research Laboratory has demonstrated a process which extracts carbon dioxide and hydrogen from seawater and converts it to a hydrocarbon fuel with a reported 92% efficiency. And they flew a model plane using the stuff. Seriously. Video below.

The model P-51 used in the demo flight powered by the seawater-sourced fuel. Image courtesy of USNRL.

NRL has made significant advances in the development of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) synthesis process to convert CO2 and H2 from seawater to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules. In the first patented step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). These value-added hydrocarbons from this process serve as building blocks for the production of industrial chemicals and designer fuels. In the second step these olefins can be converted to compounds of a higher molecular using controlled polymerization. The resulting liquid contains hydrocarbon molecules in the carbon range, C9-C16, suitable for use a possible renewable replacement for petroleum based jet fuel. The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years. Pursuing remote land-based options would be the first step towards a future sea-based solution.

The low end of that price range is already near what would be considered reasonable for commercial airlines today; spot prices are in the $2.90/gallon ballpark these days.

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Video courtesy of USNRL.

So, yes, the plane flown was a tiny remote control model of the P-51, not a full-size aircraft. And it happened just over a year ago, not just last week when the press release came out. Still, that’s some seriously cool technology being applied.

h/t: Stephan for sharing.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.