US Navy creating hydrocarbon fuel from sea water using electricity

Interesting news from the US Naval Research Laboratory: They’ve built an E-CEM electrolytic cation exchange module that allows them to create hydrocarbon fuel from seawater, with electricity.

The intended application, probably, is to use some of the 190 megawatt surplus that an aircraft carrier nuclear reactor maintains, to create fuel on the carrier and replace some or all of the fuel ships that have to follow the fleet around.

Here’s the US NRL announcement: Scale Model WWII Craft Takes Flight With Fuel From the Sea Concept – U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

Here’s their picture of the unit:

Fuel From Sea Concept - Carbon Capture Skid

Basically, my understanding of the process is that seawater is mixed with steam and a new catalyst to yield carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen.  This mixture is then turned into short chain hydrocarbons with an iron catalyst and then, with heat and pressure, turned into long-chain synthetic jet fuel, on-board the ship.

From a DailyKos analysis of what they’re doing, the starting equation looks like this:

2(HCO3-) –> 2(CO2) + H2 + O2 + 2(e-)

The thing to remember, of course, is conservation of energy: You’re not creating energy with this process. You’re just converting surplus electricity from available sources – like an idling nuclear reactor – and conveniently available resources, like seawater, into portable, high-energy-density liquid hydrocarbon fuel, which you can use to run things like aircraft, and maybe cars and trucks.

Source: Wikipedia

Very exciting, nonetheless, because storing the excess power generated from wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and other sources of alternative energy for use later is one of the major stumbling blocks to their wide adoption.

The assumption a lot of futurists make (like me) is that ultimately, hydrogen is the obvious storage medium of choice. But, of course, a stable, non-cryogenic hydrocarbon fuel is a much, much preferable choice!

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