Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Navy Creates Fuel From Seawater

Soulskill posted about 6 months ago | from the no-blood-for-seawater dept.

The Military 256

New submitter lashicd sends news that the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has announced a successful proof-of-concept demonstration of converting seawater to liquid hydrocarbon fuel. They used seawater to provide fuel for a small replica plan running a 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. ... NRL has made significant advances in the development of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) synthesis process to convert CO2 and H2 from seawater to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules. In the first patented step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). These value-added hydrocarbons from this process serve as building blocks for the production of industrial chemicals and designer fuels."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Cool if you have a nuke. (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702327)

This only makes sense if you have a nuclear reactor or long transmission lines plugged into the grid somewhere and probably belching all kinds of toxic death.
This is essentially making a complex liquid energy battery.

They do. (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | about 6 months ago | (#46702335)

All US carriers are nuclear-powered, and being able to synthesize aviation fuel would drastically reduce the logistics cost of operating them.

-jcr

Re:They do. (2, Informative)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 6 months ago | (#46702457)

It's unlikely that this would obviate completely the need for external supplies of fuel. At best it would probably only marginally decrease the depletion rate of on board stocks allowing for a somewhat longer cruise before a resupply is needed. There are probably other downsides to using this system too. For example, there are parts, maintenance and possibly extra wear and tear on the reactor which now not only has to propel the ship but also power an energy intensive conversion process from seawater to jet fuel. Indeed, the initiation energy for some of those chemical reactions is quite high which probably explains why somebody isn't already doing this on a large scale for profit here on land.

Re:They do. (4, Interesting)

Demonantis (1340557) | about 6 months ago | (#46702587)

Aircraft carriers are like a space limited island villages with a nuclear power plant. The power goes to more than just propulsion so its built into the design plans. Desalination, waste water treatment, and machine shops for sure. There is probably a tiny factory on board for as many products as they can have one for. Manufacturing on demand is highly desirable. Not only is resupply is a massive pain, but it takes up valuable storage space.

Re:They do. (5, Insightful)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 6 months ago | (#46702643)

There's no doubt that manufacturing fuel on board is desirable from a logistics standpoint. The question is cost, not just monetary but energy. As you're no doubt aware, hydrocarbon fuels are incredibly energy dense which means that an equal amount (and probably more) energy most go into their creation from scratch using the most basic raw materials, H2, CO2 and CO. The question is how much space is available onboard for production scale versions of these reactors and how much steam and electric power will the reactor have to supply to make this work. I don't know, but I would guess lots. This fuel production sounds like an energy hungry process. How much power and steam can be spared from other onboard needs to power fuel production? Would this stress the reactors, possibly reducing service life or requiring more frequent nuclear refuels? There are trade-offs here, it's not a slam dunk.

Re:They do. (4, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | about 6 months ago | (#46702975)

There's no doubt that manufacturing fuel on board is desirable from a logistics standpoint.

Is it, though? If you run out of fuel, just refuel the damn thing. At sea refueling is trivially easy, all you need is a ship that can carry a lot of fuel, a pump, and a hose. Pretty much any ship will work if it will carry enough- for example in the summer fishing season in Alaska, the canneries hire on the big Bering Sea crab boats to act as tenders, and they provide fuel to the smaller salmon boats. Refueling a destroyer at sea isn't all that different except in scale, and the Navy has logistics ships designed specifically to do this.

The other variable that needs to be considered is time. I'm guessing that not only is this process very energy-intensive, it takes a while. The article shows them fueling a hobby plane with the fuel they've generated, which suggests they're not exactly churning the stuff out by the barrel. Unless you can create a system that can deliver tens of thousands of gallons a day, it's probably going to be far faster to divert a support ship and have it show up with 7 million gallons of the stuff.

And realistically, when is a carrier or other ship likely to be far from supply lines? Current and potential flashpoints would include places like Syria, the Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, and North Korea. Likely areas of operation for the Navy will be the Mediterranean, Arabian Sea, South China Sea, and the Sea of Japan. None are far from civilization. Not coincidentally, the U.S. already has bases near all of these places. The U.S. Navy did have a tough time in the Pacific theater in WWII, trying to fight the Japanese in Indonesia on the far side of the Pacific, and that was even after they had the good fortune that the Japanese didn't think to bomb the fuel tanks in Hawaii. Part of what they learned from Pearl Harbor is that you don't wait until the fighting starts to establish a supply chain and stockpile fuel.

Re:They do. (3, Insightful)

pupsocket (2853647) | about 6 months ago | (#46703107)

Japan, like most of civilization, is not a fuel source, just a fuel depot. A foreign base is an advantage and a disadvantage, an overhead expense, a sore in foreign relations, and a vulnerability requiring additional defense.

As far as supply lines go, this is like taking off the pump-fed diving suit and breathing with gills.

Your point is well taken if this process is just an auxiliary. But if every vessel in an armada can refill from purpose-built reactor-powered saltwater-crackering seaworthy catalytic beds, then it's a much different force, one that can't be stopped at the Solomon Islands.

Re:They do. (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 months ago | (#46703327)

There's no doubt that manufacturing fuel on board is desirable from a logistics standpoint.

Is it, though? If you run out of fuel, just refuel the damn thing. At sea refueling is trivially easy, all you need is a ship that can carry a lot of fuel, a pump, and a hose.

And a supply line for those ships, and all the military vessels that entails. If you don't need the supply line, then you can project force with many fewer vessels.

Not trivial at all (5, Interesting)

sjbe (173966) | about 6 months ago | (#46703579)

At sea refueling is trivially easy, all you need is a ship that can carry a lot of fuel, a pump, and a hose.

"Trivially easy"? I think the Navy would disagree strongly with you on that. There are a huge number of non-trivial logistics issues. You have the expense of maintaining a second ship. You have to have that ship transport the fuel to an arbitrary location on the globe. You have to keep the fuel supply safe and ensure that the fuel tender isn't tracked back to the ship it is refueling. You have a ship with a large amount of potentially explosive fuel on board with all the attendant safety hazards that causes. It means your ships are limited in where they can go and how long by their fuel supplies rather than mission parameters.

The fact that they're fairly good at doing it doesn't mean it is something they find easy or useful. Cut of a military's fuel supply and they are effectively helpless. Fuel logistics are a HUGE and expensive problem for the military. It supposedly costs something like $16 to transport $1 worth of fuel. Also bear in mind that a lot of fuel comes from pretty volatile locations that we are likely to engage in hostile action with. There is a reason our military is putting a LOT of money into alternative fuel research. It's a huge cost and a huge tactical/strategic problem for them.

And realistically, when is a carrier or other ship likely to be far from supply lines?

Middle of the Pacific perhaps? Or any other ocean? Or when near hostiles? You don't really want to be refueling anywhere close to the people you are fighting if you can avoid it.

Energy requirement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703085)

While it's true that an equal or greater amount of energy must go into their creation, an endothermic reaction that results in fewer gas molecules in the product than was in the reactants can be done without supplying any more energy than is needed to pressurise the reactants - once pressurised they will react and take in energy from the surroundings. Same principle as a refrigerator.

True, you then have to do something with the cold, but that's usually not a problem - I imagine the navy has some use for it, and if not they just have it leak into the surrounding ocean.

And if that was done on a large enough scale, the ocean temperature would decrease (true, it would have to be a very large scale, but I imagine a limitless source of hydrocarbons would act as incentive) and global warming would halt or reverse. Although I'm not sold on the wisdom of doing that - all ice ages have to end sometime, and better than going back into the main glacial period of our current (yes, we're in one) ice age.

Re:They do. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703095)

former navy machinist mate here - theres more available space than most people realize on a carrier. we were exceptionally good space management, so that wouldnt be an issue. the reactors wouldnt have an issue with producing enough energy - the whole powerplant is built with a ton of production headroom. we would often operate with up to 1/3 of our equipment either off or idling and still be well below the energy demands of the ship, even during flight ops in combat zones. there would be a slight reduction in how long the fuel would last, maybe 20 years instead of 25. but, to have onboard aviation fuel production would be very very worth it. stress to the reactors would be minimal, theyre designed to be operated at high capacity for extended amount of time and the navy doesnt come anywhere near running them at their actual capacity - everything is designed with a LOT of headroom! youre right that it isnt a slam dunk, but it is very doable

Re:They do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703367)

As a quick approximation, I'd guess that the power being used to drive a carrier is much, much greater than that being used to drive the aircraft it carries. So, even if the process of converting nuclear power to aviation fuel is much less efficient than using it directly to drive a turbine, the energy required for this will be small compared to the total output of a carrier's reactor.

This isn't a slam-dunk, but it's a quick this-probably-isn't-a-problem.

Re:They do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703123)

It's unlikely that this would obviate completely the need for external supplies of fuel.

That is the exact mission goal. Obviously this is not TRL-7, but when it is, the nuclear reactor on the aircraft carrier supplies well enough energy to produce fuel for the aircraft it carries.

Re:They do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703259)

F-18 going Mach 0.5 sea level = 163 gallons per minute

F/A-22A typically results in a cruise fuel burn of around 6,000 to 7,000 lb/hr

Re:They do. (1)

smash (1351) | about 6 months ago | (#46702947)

Also, its about time we had another look at the LFTR reactors.

Re: Cool ... (1)

VernonNemitz (581327) | about 6 months ago | (#46702593)

Yes, so long as you have sufficient energy available, you most certainly can do the "net effect" of making hydrocarbon combustion run backward. It simply takes MORE energy to do that than you got from the original hydrocarbon combustion, because of inevitable inefficiencies in the system. So, if you have the energy to waste, and have no easier supply of hydrocarbons available, this certainly is Cool. Just not very practical for everyday use, worldwide....

Re:Cool if you have a nuke. (2)

Lennie (16154) | about 6 months ago | (#46703273)

I'm sure you have heared of Moore's Law ?

Did you know solar panels are on a similar course ?:

https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com]

Just like Nuclear Fusion (0)

scum-e-bag (211846) | about 6 months ago | (#46702355)

Just like Nuclear Fusion it will be commercially viable in 7-10 years...

From the Article:

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.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (3, Insightful)

popo (107611) | about 6 months ago | (#46702389)

No. Nothing like nuclear fusion. This is not an energy source. It is a fuel source.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (2)

edibobb (113989) | about 6 months ago | (#46702453)

It takes more energy to make hydrocarbons from water and CO2 than you get when you burn the hydrocarbons. It's the law. Without a LOT if energy input, you'll never create the fuel.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (3, Insightful)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 6 months ago | (#46702529)

I think that's sort of what the GP is getting at. It's a fuel source, not an energy source.

It takes more energy to make hydrocarbons from water and CO2 than you get when you burn the hydrocarbons.

What about the energy currently required to keep ships stocked up on aviation fuel, though?

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (2)

Captain Hook (923766) | about 6 months ago | (#46702537)

Without a LOT if energy input, you'll never create the fuel.

I can't work out if you are agreeing with the GP or failing to understand his point.

His

This is not an energy source. It is a fuel source.

sentence is saying it's just a way of producing fuel, it's not a source of energy.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (1)

smash (1351) | about 6 months ago | (#46702951)

You mean like this [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (1)

virtualXTC (609488) | about 6 months ago | (#46703261)

Nuclear Fission =! Nuclear FUsion

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (2)

rossdee (243626) | about 6 months ago | (#46702469)

But you can use a fission reactor. And the Navy has fission reactors at sea (and underneath it)

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (2)

blackicye (760472) | about 6 months ago | (#46702479)

No. Nothing like nuclear fusion. This is not an energy source. It is a fuel source.

I think the parent was referring to the power that would need to be input into these processes. Without nuclear power of some sort, this would be kinda pointless for the Navy's purposes.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (3, Funny)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 6 months ago | (#46702685)

No. Nothing like nuclear fusion. This is not an energy source. It is a fuel source.

I think the parent was referring to the power that would need to be input into these processes. Without nuclear power of some sort, this would be kinda pointless for the Navy's purposes.

I think the guy was intending to express his skepticism that we will ever see this happen. Nuclear fusion is the new Duke Nukem Forever.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about 6 months ago | (#46702395)

Interesting. $3/gallon would be commercially viable right now.

It's just another data point that causes me to thing that our transition away from liquid fossil fuels is likely to be rather precipitous, faster than the transition away from leaded gasoline(which is barely within my memory).

All it takes is the first commercial project producing bio-fuel to start making money, then development work will drop the price of biofuel even as the cost of extracting fossil fuel will continue to rise.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (5, Informative)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 6 months ago | (#46702567)

You do realize that what they're producing here is artificial jet fuel, right? It's not "biofuel" because it isn't produced by bacteria or algae or other direct biological process. No, what they're talking about here is essentially the water gas shift reaction whereby dissolved CO2 in the seawater is combined with water vapor (aka steam) and carbon monoxide (produced via this "bicarbonate" reactant?) to yield carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen which more heat and pressure (steam) in the presence of an iron catalyst converts these products into short chain hydrocarbons (alkenes), probably ethanes (CH3) and propanes (CH4), and from there longer chain hydrocarbons with more heat and pressure until the desired blend is cooked up, jet fuels of CH9 to CH16. However, these processes don't really transition us away from fossil fuels or at least not into something besides a hydrocarbon fuel, whether produced artificially as in this case or refined from naturally occurring crude oil that we've pumped out of the ground.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (1, Insightful)

smash (1351) | about 6 months ago | (#46703145)

You realise that doesn't make it a FOSSIL fuel right?

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703413)

You realize he addressed that in his final sentence right?

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (2)

PRMan (959735) | about 6 months ago | (#46703507)

Dissolved ocean fossils don't count?

That depends (1, Interesting)

DeathToBill (601486) | about 6 months ago | (#46702789)

Depends on where in the supply chain that $3/gal is. $3/gal supplied to the US Navy is probably more like $7 or $8 at the pump for putting in your car - not so viable.

Re:That depends (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | about 6 months ago | (#46703363)

People in many parts of the world already pay the equivalent of US$7 for petrol, so the projected cost is quite viable for automobile use. However, it is likely that efficiencies of scale will bring down the price of seawater fuel if a mass production system is developed. If that is the case then this fuel could easily compete with conventional petrol at the pump.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (0)

Chrisq (894406) | about 6 months ago | (#46702523)

Just like Nuclear Fusion it will be commercially viable in 7-10 years...

Nuclear fusion is commercially available already [wikipedia.org] , you just can't have your own reactor.

Re:Just like Nuclear Fusion (1)

virtualXTC (609488) | about 6 months ago | (#46703295)

NO! You cannot buy the sun. Solar power != commercially available nuclear fusion Moreover, just because Victorians could purchase steam turbines, doesn't mean nuclear fission was commercially available to them either.

Both worlds, oh ironic (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702377)

This looks like you get both worlds: nuclear and solar fuel.

You need a nuclear plant to power the converter, and you use the sea as a solar panel to get the H2 in it.

The only nice point would be: CO2 sink. The world has too much CO2, that could consume a few part of it to make back long hydrocarbon.

The new plane are to be electric... the new electricity storage is to be done in fuel. Forget NiCd and other Nickel based product.

Re: Both worlds, oh ironic (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702739)

The problem is that you're extracting the locked up CO2 in the seawater in order to release it into the atmosphere. The oceans are the world's largest CO2 sinks. The last thing we need is a way to release that CO2.

Re: Both worlds, oh ironic (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 6 months ago | (#46702887)

At least it's part of a CO2 cycle, not some new CO2 we dug out of the ground.

Re: Both worlds, oh ironic (1)

smash (1351) | about 6 months ago | (#46703157)

If only we could extract CO2 from the atmosphere

You know you fucked up the water... (1)

YoungManKlaus (2773165) | about 6 months ago | (#46702379)

when you can already burn it as fuel ;)

Re:You know you fucked up the water... (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about 6 months ago | (#46702913)

Yeah, yeah. For best results they should use the tapwater from areas with fracking wells!

Re:You know you fucked up the water... (1)

CreatureComfort (741652) | about 6 months ago | (#46703325)

Yeah, I'm kind of surprised this wasn't an article about an advanced filtering technology that just separated out all the spilled hydrocarbons floating around the ocean for refining.

Any chemists want to weigh in?? (2)

noobermin (1950642) | about 6 months ago | (#46702391)

I just can't understand how Hydrogen gas can be produced from sea water. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (3, Informative)

jcr (53032) | about 6 months ago | (#46702393)

When you electrolyze water, it divides into hydrogen and oxygen, as any 4th-grader should know.

-jcr

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702509)

4th grader in what country? Your USA-centrism is showing.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702539)

I'm not from the USA, yet I understood his point perfectly well. But then, I'm not a total douchebag like you.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703045)

Where I come from a 4th grader is 9 years old.

Perhaps the use of a non ambiguous term is in fact warranted sometime.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 6 months ago | (#46702893)

I don't even know what "4th grade" is.

How old is a "4th grader"?

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703299)

Google is your friend.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (1)

therealkevinkretz (1585825) | about 6 months ago | (#46702931)

How is assuming a 4th grader knows that "USA-centric"?

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (4, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | about 6 months ago | (#46703063)

4th grader in what country? Your USA-centrism is showing.

In other first world countries; any 2nd grader should know this.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (2)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 6 months ago | (#46702585)

I was under the impression that electrolysis isn't a fast process but the article does mention some kind of patented "electrolytic cation exchange module", perhaps combined with some kind of "bicarbonate" reactant? In any case, it seems clear that they've found a way to substantially speed up H2 and CO2 production from seawater. From there it's not much of a stretch to produce CO and then hydrocarbon fuels, jet fuels in this case, via the well understood Fischer-Tropsch process or similar.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#46702649)

I was under the impression that electrolysis isn't a fast process

Depends on how much current you use.

20 years ago, I'd have been able to tell you how many litres per second an amp will produce.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702401)

Water is made of hydrogen, asshat.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (4, Informative)

omglolbah (731566) | about 6 months ago | (#46702415)

This article is linked in the story article. It has a lot more info on the process.

http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/... [navy.mil]

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | about 6 months ago | (#46702423)

Water is hydrogen and oxygen. It can be very simple and you can do it yourself in about 10 minutes. Get two pieces of wire, strip the insulation off of it, connect one to the + terminal of a 9V transistor battery, the other to the - terminal. Pour a drinking glass full of water, put in about a TBSP of salt, stir it up. Then stick the wires, separately, into the glass so they don't touch. Bubbles will appear on each wire, the negative side is hydrogen and the positive side is oxygen.

      This is impractical on the scale that TFA talks about but its already there, all you have to is break it up.

      BTW, putting it back together generates a lot of energy , and water. That's the principle of a hydrogen fuel cell.

       

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (3, Informative)

fnj (64210) | about 6 months ago | (#46702569)

Bubbles will appear on each wire, the negative side is hydrogen and the positive side is oxygen

Using NaCl as you describe to make the water conductive also results in the evolution of Cl - chlorine gas - more than oxygen. If your wires are bare copper, the metal also migrates from the positive wire to the negative wire, turning the solution nasty blue-green in the process.

Some caution is advised. Chlorine gas is toxic. It was used in shells to poison troops in WW1. Of course the amount is quite slight in the experiment.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (4, Insightful)

itsdapead (734413) | about 6 months ago | (#46702989)

Chlorine gas is toxic. It was used in shells to poison troops in WW1.

Whereas both hydrogen and oxygen are perfectly safe and have never been known to case any sort of problem whatsoever... well, ok, there was the Hindenburg, and Apollo 1, and...

So if you do the described experiment while locked in a badly-ventilated room, leave it running for long enough to increase Ever Ready's share price by 1%, ignore the eye-watering stink that even a whiff of chlorine will produce and then light a cigarette, you could be in real trouble. If only from all the crap in the cigarette smoke...

However, all this pales into insignificance alongside the experiment's reckless use of the liquid death that is Dihydrogen Monoxide [dhmo.org] !

Seriously, guys, when everything is described as dangerous, nothing gets treated as dangerous. If you're not sure what it is, don't wait for someone on the internet to tell you not to snort it.

Re:Any chemists want to weigh in?? (2)

mysidia (191772) | about 6 months ago | (#46703101)

Using NaCl as you describe to make the water conductive also results in the evolution of Cl - chlorine gas - more than oxygen.

Use Sulphuric acid, or Sodium Hydroxide instead of NaCl.

Next step for profit (5, Funny)

cripkd (709136) | about 6 months ago | (#46702403)

Next step is to find a country where they have too little democracy but a lot of this "seawater" they mention.

Re:Next step for profit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702425)

They've already found that country, and they're testing it right now.

Re:Next step for profit (4, Funny)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 6 months ago | (#46702589)

Next step is to find a country where they have too little democracy but a lot of this "seawater" they mention.

California?

Re:Next step for profit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703419)

To be completely honest, I'd like to make sure the water they used didn't come from the gulf of Mexico. We all know that one is full of oil.

Re:Next step for profit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703455)

I hear Canada has 202,080km of coastline. Russia also has a pretty good amount: 37,653km.

Reading between the lines (5, Informative)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | about 6 months ago | (#46702421)

TFA was points to a 2012 press release, but it contains not much more information. They must need to supply energy to this reaction, but whether this energy is as heat, electricity or something else is unclear.

I see two uses from the point of view of the U.S. navy. One is to put one of these chemical plants in an aircraft carrier, power it with the carrier's reactor, and generate fuel for the aircraft on board. The other is to put the chemical plant on a nuclear powered supply ship, which will then transfer the fuel to non-nuclear surface ships.

From a world energy point of view, this is a way to turn non-fossil fuel power (nuclear, hydro, wind) into hydrocarbon fuel, with the overall process being carbon neutral. Burning fossil fuels to provide the energy for this process would certainly be counter productive in terms of CO2 emission and very likely economically counter productive as you'd be better chemically processing your fossil fuel instead.

By the time you're going to all of this trouble to turn electricity into fuel, it is unlikely that you'd want to run a car on it - you'd rather just have an electric car. For aircraft we really have no good alternative to hydrocarbon fuels, so it could be used here. However, on the road to a low-carbon future, we have decades worth of lower hanging fruit (notably coal power stations) before we really need to care about whether our aircraft fuels are carbon neutral.

Conspicuously missing from the articles is the energy efficiency of this process. Given the $3-$6 per gallon projected jet fuel cost, presumably the efficiency is not too bad. (I notice this number hasn't changed since 2012 which makes me suspicious that it is more guesswork than calculation.)

Re:Reading between the lines (3, Insightful)

multi io (640409) | about 6 months ago | (#46702543)

By the time you're going to all of this trouble to turn electricity into fuel, it is unlikely that you'd want to run a car on it - you'd rather just have an electric car.

Not sure about that. Electrical energy can't be stored easily -- you need some high-tech battery with all kinds of electrolytes and complicated chemicals, and still the capacity is relatively measly. Electricity works much better if it can be consumed right after it is produced, without storing it (but if this can be achieved, electricity is otherwise very flexible -- it can be scaled up and down easily, and it can be transported quickly over long distances). HC fuels OTOH work well for storing energy -- they already store it, you just have to pour them into any airtight vessel, and they'll stay there until you burn them. So electricity and HC fuels might compliment each other quite well if the right technologies are in place. Any process that can convert electricity into fuel (and also happens to consume and thus neutralize the byproduts of burning the fuel) should be almost like a gold mine, if it can be scaled up sufficiently. So if this water-to-fuel conversion or similar processes can be made to work efficiently, chances are liquid fuels will continue to be the preferred method for large-scale mobile energy consumption needs.

Re:Reading between the lines (1)

swb (14022) | about 6 months ago | (#46703061)

I always thought an electrolysis plant was the ideal power sink/storage system for those renewable energy sources like wind whose availability didn't always line up with grid demand. Another good use would be desalination plants.

I know the processes are "inefficient" but efficiency shouldn't matter much if the input energy is free. It seems more inefficient to build windmills you don't let generate electricity when the wind blows.

Re:Reading between the lines (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 months ago | (#46703313)

By the time you're going to all of this trouble to turn electricity into fuel, it is unlikely that you'd want to run a car on it - you'd rather just have an electric car.

Not sure about that. Electrical energy can't be stored easily -- you need some high-tech battery with all kinds of electrolytes and complicated chemicals, and still the capacity is relatively measly.

Most trips in cars are short. Once we can "refuel" on any streetcorner, batteries won't even seem like a hindrance any more. Contactless charging on highways will happen eventually as well. It's only really non-nuclear seacraft and heavier-than-air aircraft that are going to need to continue to burn liquid fuels for the foreseeable future.

This technology really has only valid military use, because it frees them from having to transport liquid fuels around the ocean; they only have to transport the nuclear fuel. But on land we can use free sunlight to turn water and air into hydrocarbon fuels using algae instead of a metal catalyst. You could do this in the ocean as well, but not as conveniently or reliably.

liquid hydrogen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702611)

Conversion from hydrogen to hydrocarbon has inefficiencies. china's plan to convert coal to hydrogen to methane is about 50 percent energy efficient. For big commercial aircraft, it will be better to use liquid hydrogen directly. if you have fighter jets, then it is worth the hassle to go to long chain hydrocarbons.

Re:liquid hydrogen (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | about 6 months ago | (#46703535)

china's plan to convert coal to hydrogen to methane is about 50 percent energy efficient. For big commercial aircraft, it will be better to use liquid hydrogen directly.

The problem with this is that it's cryogenic with an extremely low boiling point of 20 K (Kelvin). You would have to carry a much heavier tank and insulation for the liquid hydrogen on the aircraft. There's also hydrogen leaks and transport of it to the airport from wherever it is produced.

You would also need to handle boil off of hydrogen while the plane is on the ground and the hazards of handling extreme cryo fluids, which is much more dangerous than handling jet fuel/kerosene. For example, oxygen condenses at 50 K meaning a poorly insulated tank (say due to damage inflicted while conducting maintenance) could be condensing liquid oxygen inside the plane's wing.

Further, there isn't a good reusable tank material for handling liquid hydrogen. Composites weaken over time due to gas pockets in the composite material (and thermal cycling) while metals such as aluminum are subject to hydrogen embrittlement.

I think there would be a huge redesign of aircraft in order to use liquid hydrogen directly. Thicker wings say from a flying wing design would be more fuel efficient.

There would probably also be huge logistics changes. Fuel tanks would probably have to be kept at extreme cryo temperatures indefinitely (including overnight) in order to prevent thermal cycling. You couldn't have the aircraft sit on the tarmac for hours because it would either lose too much fuel due to boil off or require considerable refrigeration power to keep boil off from happening. A traffic jam combined with a hot day and loss of grid power, would be a disaster for an airport.

Meanwhile methane can be converted to normal jet fuel with some additional loss of energy. For example, a coal burning plant/refinery on site of a coal mining operation could produce methane or longer chain hydrocarbons directly.

And at the current state of affairs, the cheapest hydrogen source is methane. Any plan for creating hydrogen from water is going to run into a similar degree of energy loss as that of converting coal and water to methane and syngas.

Re:Reading between the lines (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703009)

with the overall process being carbon neutral

No, it isn't. It is yet another scheme by the Republicans to put more carbon into the air. They've worked hard for decades to release as much carbon as they can from trees and from coal. Now, they want to empty the oceans of carbon.

Re:Reading between the lines (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 months ago | (#46703163)

One is to put one of these chemical plants in an aircraft carrier, power it with the carrier's reactor, and generate fuel for the aircraft on board.

the nuclear plant of an aircraft carrier doesn't have the power output required to produce enough fuel for the planes operating on the carrier. Most of the power produced by those reactors comes in the form of steam for the main turbines, only a relatively small part goes to the turbogenerators that supply electricity.

And adding more turbogenerators means, basically, designing a new carrier - there's not a lot of spare space (or piping) in the current carriers for that large a mod.

Plus there's the whole "shorten the life of the reactor cores by ~75% by running them at full power all the time to make jet fuel" thing....

Re:Reading between the lines (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 months ago | (#46703333)

Plus there's the whole "shorten the life of the reactor cores by ~75% by running them at full power all the time to make jet fuel" thing....

It's got to still be cheaper than having to not only drag all that fuel around the oceans, but also having to have the ships to drag that fuel around, and the ships to protect those ships. Why are there so many comments in this story which completely ignore logistics? Fuel tenders don't just magic themselves to the location of your fleet.

Re:Reading between the lines (1)

jabuzz (182671) | about 6 months ago | (#46703519)

The new USS carriers have substantially higher power generation than the Nimitz class.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G... [wikipedia.org]

Editing Fail. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702459)

provide fuel for a small replica plan

"Unwanted" Methane? (2)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 6 months ago | (#46702463)

In a civilian application, it wouldn't be necessary to spend effort in the process to reduce methane production. Just feed the methane into the natural gas network.

Re:"Unwanted" Methane? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702615)

I think the point of reducing the methane is that it is more valuable being turned into the fuel than into methane.

Re:"Unwanted" Methane? (3, Informative)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 6 months ago | (#46702717)

It depends upon what sort of fuel you're trying to produce. Methane can definitely be burned as a fuel, on your stove for example, but it's not a good aviation fuel. The idea here is to skip methane and go straight to ethane or propane which can be up-converted to even longer chain hydrocarbons via more heat and pressure, eventually yielding jet fuel. Artificial hydrocarbon fuels themselves are nothing new. The basic processes have been known since the early part of the 20th century, but because it's way cheaper to simply refine naturally occurring petroleum pumped out of the ground, nobody does synthetic hydrocarbons unless they have to. For example, Germany produced synthetic aviation gasoline from coal during WWII as supplies of oil were gradually cut off and South Africa produced diesel fuel from coal during the sanctions of the Apartheid era.

Depends on the effort. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 6 months ago | (#46703079)

It depends upon what sort of fuel you're trying to produce.

And on how difficult (read: expensive) it is to avoid unwanted byproducts. And on the possible market value of the byproducts.

If you can sell the liquid hydrocarbons that you want to produce and the methane that appears as a by-product for almost the same price, it would be economically counterproductive to spend money on reducing the fraction of unwanted methane. Just produce both and sell both.

Re:"Unwanted" Methane? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703181)

The methane produced in the process has to be distilled out of the product, just as it does in the Fischer-Tropsch process (which it sounds like this process includes as a final step), this consumes additional energy and reduces the overall efficiency of the process. If you can design better catalysts so that more methane is evolved into longer hydrocarbons then the distillation takes less energy, and below some lower bound the methane can be left in the fuel without issue.

While it is true that at "room" temperature, significant methane evaporation will occur when the fuel is stored, other less volatile admixtures will also enter the vapor phase, and to separate them a condenser is needed. Thus instead of the energy being consumed in the heating of the fuel, as it is for example in an ethanol or crude oil distillation, the energy is consumed generating the temperature gradient for the condenser, as this has to be cooled below ambient temperatures to separate the methane from the heavier fractions.

Specifically the methane has to be cooled to -161.49C at 1atm, though typically this condensation is done at much higher pressures to reduce the working thermal gradient and thereby improve thermodynamic efficiency (and at cryogenic temperatures methane is quite viscous).

There are also a bunch of other components which must be limited in commercial natural gas to avoid unintentional condensation or corrosion in gas pipelines.

Hydrocarbons besides olefins? (4, Interesting)

Dave Emami (237460) | about 6 months ago | (#46702661)

What I'm wondering is, can they modify this process to produce edible hydrocarbons? Probably not something you'd enjoy eating, but the primary limitation on a nuclear submarine's endurance is the food supply for the crew.

Re:Hydrocarbons besides olefins? (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 6 months ago | (#46702905)

the primary limitation on a nuclear submarine's endurance is the food supply for the crew.

Under what circumstances would that actually be a problem?

Re:Hydrocarbons besides olefins? (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 6 months ago | (#46703037)

What I'm wondering is, can they modify this process to produce edible hydrocarbons? Probably not something you'd enjoy eating, but the primary limitation on a nuclear submarine's endurance is the food supply for the crew.

While that is true, it really isn't an issue operationally. You can cram enough food onboard to last a long time, although towards the end powdered eggs get old. Given the space limitations inherent in a submarine it would make little sense to build in a food machine when the space could be better used to store real food.

Waste in the form of spent hydrocarbons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702663)

What form of exaust waste are we talking here? Will it mean destroying the oceans now to wage peace or is it just wierding out the atmosphere?

Re:Waste in the form of spent hydrocarbons (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702749)

"What form of exaust waste are we talking here? "

Oxygen. It's a nasty stuff.

Energy (1)

janoc (699997) | about 6 months ago | (#46702755)

This sort of reaction is nice, but don't forget that it needs gobs and gobs of energy to build those hydrocarbons. Don't forget that the energy you use up by burning that fuel (and some, because of the poor engine efficiency, reaction losses, etc.) had to be "put in" first. No free lunch here ...

So yes, maybe a nuclear powered aircraft carrier could be producing jet fuel for its planes, but I don't see this supplanting the fossil fuels any time soon. It would be extremely expensive.

Re:Energy (3, Informative)

profplump (309017) | about 6 months ago | (#46702953)

Converting electricity to liquid fuel, and in particular to a liquid fuel compatible with existing infrastructure, is potentially a big win. We're working on more sustainable electricity production, but no matter how much progress we make on the front there are still lots of applications where "throw some batteries at it" isn't a viable option for power storage -- being able to produce fuel from electricity and seawater is a way to bridge that gap in energy delivery without also requiring a breakthrough in electrical storage.

Re:Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703073)

You could also run your on-land nuclear plant at peak efficiency at night and use the excess power to produce fuel. If the fuel production process is efficient enough, then compared to lowering the power output of the plant when demand is low, it could work out to be a net efficiency win.

Not that there aren't better things [wikipedia.org] you could be doing with any excess power produced.

Re:Energy (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 6 months ago | (#46703077)

This sort of reaction is nice, but don't forget that it needs gobs and gobs of energy to build those hydrocarbons. Don't forget that the energy you use up by burning that fuel (and some, because of the poor engine efficiency, reaction losses, etc.) had to be "put in" first. No free lunch here ...

So yes, maybe a nuclear powered aircraft carrier could be producing jet fuel for its planes, but I don't see this supplanting the fossil fuels any time soon. It would be extremely expensive.

For uses where cost is a secondary consideration this technology would be useful. As for supplanting fossil fuels, this tech represents more of a price ceiling for fossil fuels because at some price pointy it becomes viable; just like any other fossil url sources that are expensive to extract from the ground.The real questions is how many kW are needed to produce fuels equivalent what can be refined from a barrel of crude oil. If say a 2gW nuclear plant could produce enough to be economically viable that would have significant political and economic impact world wide; especially on countries shoe economies are heavily dependent on energy exports.

Re:Energy (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 6 months ago | (#46703133)

True point, but if the process is efficient enough, and a nuclear energy source can be used to pull CO2 sequestered in the ocean (which came from fossil fuels) to make fuel, rather than pulling new oil out of the ground, then perhaps we could dial back the amount of new carbon being pulled from the ground and dumped into the atmosphere, thereby slowing the growth rate of the concentration of CO2.

Besides, we all know there is not an infinite amount of the stuff down there to drill for, and some day it will be so hard to find and extract that this method will be cheaper anyway. So, why not develop and commercialize it now?

Re:Energy (1)

smash (1351) | about 6 months ago | (#46703171)

Not necessarily. There is talk of energy being 10,000x more abundant for humanity if we were to put development into the LFTR reactor. If we have cheap electricity via safe nuclear power, then using some of it to generate fuel from sea-water is surely a lot better than putting the effort into getting it out of the ground and then shipping it half-way around the world.

Then again, with cheap nuclear power, we can also effectively supply hydrogen (which is obviously much cleaner) for other internal combustion engines.

Re:Energy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703387)

Hydrogen storage is a problem: leaks, volume of tanks (even liquid hydrogen is not that dense, and a mess to keep liquid). Combining hydrogen with carbon which is not extracted from fossil sources solves these problems, and is carbon-neutral.

Re:Energy (1)

necro81 (917438) | about 6 months ago | (#46703271)

but I don't see this supplanting the fossil fuels any time soon

Maybe yes, maybe no. We're probably going to continue using liquid fuels for a long time. Some folks talk about the hydrogen economy being the replacement for hydrocarbons, but I've often wondered why. Hydrogen is a tricky fuel, starting from its relatively inefficient creation, through the difficulties in storage, transportation, distribution, to tricky bit of transferring and storing it in a vehicle tor provide sufficient usable range. If you've got the technology for manufacturing huge quantities of hydrogen, why not go one step further and create low weight hydrocarbons (methane, ethane, etc)? Those are much more energy dense, easier to transport and store, and there's already an extensive infrastructure in place.

nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702837)

Very informative post. i liked. http://receivefreesms.com

Old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46702977)

2012 called, they want their headline back.

http://www.navytimes.com/article/20121013/NEWS/210130317/Navy-eyes-turning-sea-water-into-jet-fuel

This sounds WAY over engineered. Whales run on kri (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703005)

This sounds WAY over engineered. Whales run on krill. That seems like it has to be a more abundant easily accessible hydrocarbon source.

this was proposed with the LFTR reactors as well.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703215)

One of the 'byproducts' of a LFTR reactor was a hell of a lot of 'waste' heat. Sounds like that's what drives this entire reaction. One of the talks about LFTR advantages was the ability to cook up a 100% compatible replacement liquid fuel for cars, diesels, etc. Sounds like this is the same exact process. This isn't hocus pocus, it's a proven chemical process. What I don't know, and what's most important, is how efficient the operation is. How much heat/energy has to go into the process to produce how much usable fuel, and in what quantities. It's not really viable if you can only get teaspoons of jet fuel at a time. Pretty fascinating stuff really.

Sea levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46703265)

Finally! A solution to rising sea levels .... now we can get rid of that pesky sea water completely.

Hardly surprising (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 6 months ago | (#46703409)

After all those oil spills recently, this story hardly surprises me.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?