Feeds

US Navy aims to make jetfuel from seawater uranium

Vampire-lust tales will rot your brain

Security for virtualized datacentres

Analysis Coverage of recent US Navy research into producing jet fuel from CO2 and hydrogen has been widely reported under headlines such as "making jet fuel from seawater". The coverage illustrates not only declining modern understanding of science and technology, but also the sad eclipse of proper science fiction by vampire-lust fantasies.

The stories arise from a paper presented at the weekend by Robert Dorner and colleagues at the Naval Research Laboratory. According to the Navy boffins:

The impact CO2 is having on the environment has been thoroughly documented over the last years. Many different technologies have been proposed to reduce its impact on global warming such as geological sequestration. However, an interesting and attractive alternative would be the recycling of the gas into energy-rich molecules.

Dorner and Co have been working on mixing CO2 and hydrogen to produce light hydrocarbons which could then be processed into jet fuel. As jet fuel is rich in energy, doing this uses a lot of energy - and even then, a lot of the CO2 and hydrogen actually turns to methane. Methane can actually be a useful fuel, but not as useful as jetfuel - and as a waste product it's far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, being a hugely more powerful greenhouse gas.

But Dorner and his colleagues have managed to get the amount of methane produced down to 30 per cent or so, using special catalysts. The "sea water" bit comes from the fact that Dorner has also noted that there's a fair bit of CO2 in sea water, plus hydrogen too if you have even more energy to crack water molecules apart.

If you were interested in being green, and had a whole load of energy which you considered green and wanted to make liquid fuel with, you probably wouldn't bother harvesting your CO2 from the sea - you'd get it from coal power stations or other hydrocarbon-burning powerplant exhausts. Such ideas are already commonly touted among researchers.

Enormous amounts of cheap carbon-free power aren't normally to be had, however, which is why such ideas remain mainly notional.

They aren't quite as notional for the US Navy, however. That's because US Navy aircraft carriers have powerful nuclear reactors aboard, potentially able to supply large amounts of energy if the ship wasn't going at full speed and launching planes (the reactors power the catapults as well as the ship's props).

As a result the primary limiting factor on how long a US carrier can keep flying its planes is actually the amount of jet fuel it can carry. The reactor's uranium lasts for years.

Thus it would actually be useful if you could build a plant on a carrier which could scoop CO2 out of the water, crack hydrogen from it too, and combine these to top off the ship's jet-fuel tanks. The carrier would be able to keep dominating airspace without needing to break off and replenish its supplies so often.

That's how Dorner may have presented the ideas to his bosses at the navy lab, perhaps. But when speaking to people concerned primarily about the environment, it's generally seen as silly to start mentioning nuclear power.

But there aren't really any other options for processes like this. Making synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels always consumes a lot more energy than you could get by burning the fuel, so it's mostly witless to make them using fossil power. (The US military is interested in making jet fuel using coal, but this is merely because America has a lot of coal mines and potentially not enough oil wells. The Germans who developed such processes originally did so for similar reasons.)

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.