Science

Navy powers model plane using fuel made from sea water

Navy powers model plane using ...
The mini Mustang, ready to take to the air
The mini Mustang, ready to take to the air
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The mini Mustang, ready to take to the air
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The mini Mustang, ready to take to the air
NRL's E-CEM Carbon Capture Skid
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NRL's E-CEM Carbon Capture Skid

Although no one is saying that aircraft carriers will soon be able to fuel their jet fighters using water from the ocean, such a scenario has recently come a step closer to reality. Scientists from the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have successfully flown a radio-controlled airplane that was running purely on fuel derived from sea water.

The fuel was obtained using NRL's gas-to-liquid technology. This involved running sea water through the group's E-CEM (electrolytic cation exchange module) Carbon Capture Skid, which removed carbon dioxide from the water at 92 percent efficiency while simultaneously producing hydrogen as part of the process. Using a metal catalyst in a separate reactor system, the CO2 and hydrogen gases were then converted into a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

NRL's E-CEM Carbon Capture Skid
NRL's E-CEM Carbon Capture Skid

In a proof-of-concept test performed last September at Blossom Point, Maryland, that fuel was used to power an RC model P-51 Mustang's unmodified two-stroke engine. It marked the first time that the fuel had been used in a conventional combustion engine, and was made public this Monday.

The researchers are now working on upscaling the system to a commercial scale. NRL notes that apart from its use in fuel production, the CO2 could also have applications in the fields of horticulture or aquaculture.

More details on how the gas-to-liquid process works can be found in the video below.

Source: NRL

Creating Fuel from Seawater

22 comments
Skip Michael
And the gas and oil companies will crush this over night.. LOL.
Bob
How was the convertor powered and at what efficiency? What can be done and what is practical are two very different things.
Martin Hone
Fascinating, but how does the value of the inputs compare to the value of the outputs ?
Robert Hirsch
i don't understand. If i do electrolysis on water i can get hydrogen and run something off of that. of course the energy input is greater than the output. what is different about this? terrible reporting to not clarify this obvious question.
Stephen Colbourne
Did they really make all the fuel including the lubricant as it was a two stroke ? This does have uses even if it is not efficient energy wise. The example given is for an aircraft carrier with some of these being nuclear powered and this would mean they do not need to visit a port or tanker for aircraft fuel. Would also be useful when providing fuel after a disaster in remote locations.
Noel K Frothingham
It's a starting point, boys.
G4LJW
This story is not about a new source of energy - it's about producing jet fuel at a price cheap enough for the US Navy to seriously consider this method. Projected costs are up to 6 US dollars per gallon I believe. It works out cheaper and more convenient than relying on fuel resupply via tankers when out at sea. Also, there is no electrolysis involved - it is a series of chemical reactions designed to produce various hydrocarbons, using as a starting point CO2 and H2.
Mel Tisdale
As mentioned by nearly all the above, the projected EROEI figures for the final system are key. If we could build these plants near old mine workings, we might be able to use carbon capture and storage to keep the CO2 out of the atmosphere and thus stop it adding to global warming and ocean acidification. In fact, widespread deployment of this technology could assist in combating both.
VirtualGathis
This is a good tech for the Nuclear Navy. It would allow them to operate with fewer tenders and vastly lower logistics exepnses. As to the expense question: I've never seen a figure for jet fuel, but in a generator story they quoted $400/gallon of diesel delivered to theater. If jet fuel on a carrier is anywhere near that price this thing could be inefficient and expensive and still cost less. Reading the comapny website they state: "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." So there is the answer on cost. If this can produce fuel on board the carrier then it will without a doubt save millions and improve logistics.
wle
what does this have to do with anything that flies? it takes a whole chemistry lab to make this fuel plus who knows how much water it took to get these 18 drops of gas wle