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Jet fuel

Can the U.S. Navy Make Jet Fuel Out of Sea Water?

Sunday, January 17, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: jet fuel, sea water, health news

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(NaturalNews) U.S. Navy scientists are investigating a method for transforming ocean water into jet fuel as a way to maintain U.S. military superiority even in the face of dwindling global oil supplies.

"The U.S. Navy is surrounded by seawater and the Navy needs jet fuel," said researcher Robert Dorner, who works at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. "In the seawater you have [carbon dioxide] and you have hydrogen. The question is, how do you convert that into jet fuel?"

The navy researchers hope to develop a new version of the Fischer-Tropsch process for combining carbon monoxide with hydrogen to produce synthetic gas (syngas), a precursor for both jet fuel and plastics. The Fischer-Tropsch process requires the use of cobalt catalysts and heat, and also produces waxes and the greenhouse gas methane as byproducts. Because of its high cost, it has rarely been used commercially -- most notably, the isolated regimes of Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa used it to transform solid coal into liquid fuel as a way of working around fuel embargoes.

Dorner and colleagues hope to modify the process to use the carbon dioxide dissolved in sea water instead of carbon monoxide, and an iron catalyst rather than cobalt. This latter change would reduce methane output by 70 percent and also increase syngas output. If this is successful, the researchers would then need to find a way to turn syngas into jet fuel.

"It's still a very energy-intensive process," Dorner said. "A lot of work remains to be done. We haven't even really looked at building an actual pilot plant yet."

According to Jean-Michel Lavoie of Sherbrooke University in Quebec, oil prices remain low enough that even a modified Fischer-Tropsch process is unlikely to become economical soon. The idea remains appealing to the navy, however.

Dorner says that if the Navy decides to adopt the technique, it would probably install the production factory in a separate ship, which jets would then visit in order to refuel.

Sources for this story include: dsc.discovery.com.

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