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United States Navy turns seawater into fuel

AFP | April 08, 2014, 06.04 am IST
Picture for representation | file photo
Picture for representation | file photo

Washington: The US Navy believes it has finally worked out the solution to a problem that has intrigued scientists for decades — how to take seawater and use it as fuel. The development of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel is being hailed as “a game-changer” because it would signficantly shorten the supply chain, a weak link that makes any force easier to attack.

The US has a fleet of 15 military oil tankers and only aircraft carriers and some submarines are equipped with nuclear propulsion. All other vessels must frequently abandon their mission for a few hours to navigate in parallel with the tanker, a delicate operation, especially in bad weather.

The ultimate goal is to eventually get away from the dependence on oil altogether, which would also mean the navy is no longer hostage to potential shortages of oil or fluctuations in its cost. Vice Admiral Philip Cullom declared, “It’s a huge milestone for us.”

“We are in very challenging times where we really do have to think in pretty innovative ways to look at how we create energy, how we value energy and how we consume it,” he said. “We need to challenge the results of the assumptions that are the result of the last six decades of constant access to cheap, unlimited amounts of fuel,” added Admiral Cullom. “Basically, we’ve treated energy like air, something that’s always there and that we don’t worry about too much. But the reality is that we do have to worry about it,” he said.

US experts have found out how to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater.

Then, using a catalytic converter, they transformed them into a fuel by a gas-to-liquids process. They hope the fuel will not only be able to power ships, but also planes.

That means instead of relying on tankers, ships will be able to produce fuel at sea. The predicted cost of jet fuel using the technology is in the range of three to six dollars per gallon, say experts at the US Naval Research Laboratory, who have already flown a model airplane with fuel produced from seawater.

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