US Navy technology turns seawater into jet fuel

9 April 2014 (Last Updated April 9th, 2014 18:30)

Navy researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL) Materials Science and Technology Division have successfully conducted flight trials of a scale-model WWII craft powered by novel-liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

Historic WWII P-51 Mustang red-tail aircraft.

Navy researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL) Materials Science and Technology Division have successfully conducted flight trials of a scale-model WWII craft powered by novel-liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

The trials used NRL technologies that were developed for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater into liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

During the testing, the team achieved sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the Red Tail Squadron. It was powered by an off-the-shelf and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

NRL research chemist Dr Heather Willauer said that NRL worked closely with the Office of Naval Research P38 naval reserve programme to develop a game-changing technology for extracting CO2 and H2 from seawater.

"This is the first time technology of this nature has been demonstrated with the potential for transition, from the laboratory, to full-scale commercial implementation," Willauer said.

"The trials used NRL technologies that were developed for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater into liquid hydrocarbon fuel."

The fuel is a liquid hydrocarbon, which is a component of NRL's novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process that uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock.

Using a NRL electrolytic cation-exchange module (E-CEM), both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2.

The gases are then converted to liquid hydrocarbons by a metal catalyst in a reactor system.

The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon and, with sufficient funding and partnerships, it could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.


Image: Researchers prepare to fly a radio-controlled replica of the historic WWII P-51 Mustang red-tail aircraft. Photo: courtesy of the US Naval Research Laboratory.

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