Seawater could be the solution to develop alternative fuels. And not just any fuel, but fuel that could be used by aircraft carriers to propel jets on board.
The Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research has awarded the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Rochester $ 300,000 for an ongoing research project that is developing seawater-to-fuel technology. . The project started in April and will run for 2 years.
The concept is not new and scientists have been working on improving this technology for several years. The idea behind it is that ships might be able to convert seawater into fuel. Specifically, carbon dioxide and hydrogen could be extracted from water, using an onboard nuclear reactor, and then turned into liquid fuel.
The Navy would benefit the most from this technology, as aircraft carriers could make their own fuel and use it to power their jets on an ongoing basis, instead of having to wait for tankers.
This research project aims to create catalysts that can improve the process more efficiently and affordably. In order for seawater to be converted into fuel, the first step is to convert carbon dioxide (CO2), after removing it from the water, into carbon monoxide (CO). Next, different types of catalysts must be used to hydrogenate carbon monoxide into fuels.
The team has already completed the first phase of fuel synthesis, successfully using molybdenum carbide catalysts. The recent DoD-funded project is focusing on the second phase, with the aim of designing and testing catalysts capable of selectively hydrogenating CO. These catalysts are based on zeolites, which are minerals containing aluminum and silicon, and have proven not only to be effective for this type of application, but also a more cost effective alternative to precious metals.
In addition, the team at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Rochester will use innovative research and trial methods, such as computer modeling and machine learning, to speed up the process and provide the US Navy with a reliable solution in the near future.