Fuel From the Sea

April 2014


What’s cooler than an “electromagnetic weapon at sea?” How about converting seawater to fuel?

Those wild and crazy Naval Research Lab folks and some Navy Reserve help have found way to convert sea water into hydrocarbon fuel. Proof of concept including fueling a model airplane for a test flight, as set out in “Scale Model WWII Craft Takes Flight With Fuel From the Sea Concept”:

Navy researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, demonstrate proof-of-concept of novel NRL technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon—a component of NRL’s novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process that uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock—the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

Using an innovative and proprietary 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.

“In close collaboration with the Office of Naval Research P38 Naval Reserve program, NRL has developed a game changing technology for extracting, simultaneously, CO2 and H2 from seawater,” said Dr. Heather Willauer, NRL research chemist. “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.”


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 process efficiencies and the capability to simultaneously produce large quantities of H2, and process the seawater without the need for additional chemicals or pollutants, has made these technologies far superior to previously developed and tested membrane and ion exchange technologies for recovery of CO2 from seawater or air.

So, let’s see – with a large enough ship with a large enough plant on it, you could fuel the gas turbine powered fleet and its aircraft for . . . or, each ship could …

Ashore? Making fuel from seawater? Why that’s enough to help everyone with ocean access toward energy independence . . . I assume a small nuclear power plant could provide the energy to drive this process . . .

More from Physics.org. Might help with countering ocean acidification, too.

And about this from India’s Economic Times “game changer”:

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. ****

Way, way cool.

Posted by Mark Tempest in Maritime Security, Navy, Soft Power

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  • Nat Helms

    If proven true on a grand scale this technology would revolutionize everything… not just warships at sea. Immediately a giant refinery on the Gulf Coast popped into mind…a giant suction machine reversing the ruin of rising water thanks to global warming while sending water vapor into the air of toxic fumes. It would be a grand adventure! One can hope.

    • Douglas Moore

      The ruin of global warming?!? Where have you been. It’s a scam!

      • Nat Helms

        The moon landing was a fake. The V-22 was a killer, the AV8B was a scam, nuclear energy was the beinninh of the end. That kind of thinking is just what the US needs to think to encourage its decline. The plane flew, the concept was proven. Now if the Navy can survive the naysayers it may be on to something remarkable. Remember the Wright Brothers.. everyone knew man wasn’t intended to fly.

    • Whatcha Gonna Do

      or the fastest way to remove water from the planet….many have thought of this idea in the past, Stanley Myers, Seimens naval research SOFC are a few examples. once you start transforming water into fuels to be burned off the game is over and we really destroy the planet. better stick with thorium reactors.