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U.S. Navy to Produce Jet Fuel from Seawater

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Seaman Inspecting a Sample of JP-5 Jet FuelThe US Navy, each year, requires more than 600 million gallons of Jet Fuel [JP-5] for continuous operations. To meet the demand, fifteen US Navy Military Sea Lift Command fleet replenishment oilers are deployed worldwide to refuel Navy vessels at sea.

The entire operation is expensive, dangerous, and often logistically difficult. Scientists at the US Naval Research Laboratory [NRL] are developing a process that could do away with the entire process, save money, operate safely, and even eliminate petroleum-based hydrocarbon fuels from the fleet.

Described very simply, Carbon-Dioxide [CO2] + Hydrogen [H2] = JP-5 [C9Hx-C16Hx]. The carbon and hydrogen trapped in seawater is abundant and can be extracted without much difficulty.

A research chemist at NRL, Dr. Heather Willauer, described the process: after extracting CO2 and H2 from seawater, an iron-based catalyst converts up to 60% of the resulting gases into a hydrocarbon-rich liquid containing hydrocarbon chains of the C9-C16 range. The resulting liquid can then be converted to JP-5 using a nickel-based catalyst. Additionally, producing JP-5 straight from seawater would eliminate the life-cycle CO2 generated by burning petroleum-based fuels.

There are a number of advantages to this new process, “With such a process, the Navy could avoid the uncertainties inherent in procuring fuel from foreign sources and/or maintaining long supply lines,” Willauer said. Researchers at NRL’s Center for Corrosion Science Engineering facility in Key West are currently working on optimizing the process and scaling it up to meet the demands of a Navy vessel at sea.

If the process can implemented at full scale, it might cost $3 to $6 per to produce a gallon of JP-5, and could eliminate the US Navy’s petroleum dependence and need for tanker support.

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