From Seawater to Engine Fuel, US Navy’s New Carbon Neutral Concept
What does it take to create a carbon neutral economy? The first that would come to mind is the deployment of proper carbon sequestration techniques, since we already have more than enough carbon emissions that what this planet could normally produce within thousands of years. Building an economy out of hydrocarbon fuel production may also be a good start, if implemented properly. That’s exactly what the US Navy is planning to do, with what perhaps might look like some weird alchemical trick on their sleeve.
The title of this article may look a bit whimsical to some of you, but that’s exactly the “alchemical trick” that we are about to briefly discuss.
According to the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the US Navy is currently looking for ways to economize their fuel budgets, and are searching for a method that would deliver fuel to their ships quicker and more efficiently.
The idea of using seawater does hold some merit, since we’re talking about the Navy here. It would make perfect sense if they search for fuel in a place where it could be easily found by their vessels.
Wait, but that still doesn’t make sense, how in the world are they going to transform seawater into fuel? The answer lies to the basic atomic composition of hydrocarbons, namely hydrogen and carbon of course. If we can find a plentiful source for these two, we can use a special electrochemical process that would combine them to obtain the needed amount fuel. The source of hydrogen would of course be seawater, and can you guess where carbon would come from? If you didn’t answer carbon dioxide in the air, then you must not have read the title completely.
More technically speaking, the process involves the extraction of CO2 from air and H2 from seawater. This then moves forward to the hydrocarbon conversion process via an electrochemical acidification cell. The finishing touch of the conversion calls for one more process, which is the transformation of the hydrocarbon to the desired type that can be used to fuel jets and other vehicles.
Carbon Neutral Fuel Source
While the use of hydrocarbons may sound like it’s still supporting the use of fossil fuels, the plan actually calls for a net-zero emission cycle. Remember, part of the process involves carbon sequestration, or the capture of CO2, for processing the fuel. This means that whatever gets spewed out of a vehicle’s exhaust is simply recovered again for processing and reuse. The more CO2 that gets spewed within the cycle, the more CO2 that gets captured and reprocessed (since the vehicle must have used more fuel), thus no additional carbon emissions are produced.
The process of creating fuel from seawater looks quite simple in terms of principle. But some of you may have been wondering why such idea isn’t implemented on a global scale. No, it’s not a conspiracy by the world’s banks. The reason is that the delivery of the fuel needs time and energy, separate from the time and energy required to produce (and not simply extract and purify) the fuel. And where do you think those tankers would get their energy? It’s not like there are nuclear powered tankers that can be practically used out there, thus the economic complexity of implementing the idea globally.
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