May 19 - The US Navy is turning seawater into fuel. Scientists at the US Naval Research Lab have been able to extract CO2 and hydrogen from the ocean and repackage it in a form of fuel that could one day power the Navy's fleet. Brittany Peterson has more.
As it plies the world's oceans, the US Navy consumes 1.3 billion gallons of fuel per year. It's expensive, environmentally damaging and, being derived from oil, a finite source of power. But now, scientists at the Navy's Research Lab outside Washington, DC, say they've come up with an alternative they call "game changing". They've found a way to make fuel from seawater. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. HEATHER WILLAUER, RESEARCH CHEMIST, U.S. NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY, SAYING: "We've made strides in getting CO2 specifically out of seawater and hydrogen simultaneously with the technologies that we've developed. And then we've been actually able to show that we can recombine C02 and hydrogen in the laboratory on a lab-scale, laboratory scale, into a liquid-type fuel." Dr Heather Willauer heads the research project. It's been nine years in development, but late last year for the first time, she and her team proved that it could be done. (Natsot -plane takes off) A model airplaine took off and flew...powered by fuel, produced from seawater. (Natsot - plane sound) (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. HEATHER WILLAUER, RESEARCH CHEMIST, U.S. NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY, SAYING: "Well it is a game-changer potentially for the Navy or commercial entities because you can make fuel potentially where and when you need it. So that eliminates the logistic tails that you have for delivering fuel long distances to our, to our fleet." On paper the fuel production process is simple - extract CO2 and hydrogen from seawater, then recombine and compress those ingredients until their molecular structure changes to become hydrocarbons that can then be converted to fuel. But Willauer admits, making the leap from a toy airplane to an aircraft carrier will take a great deal more research. Fundamentally though, she says the basic principle is sound. And environmentally friendly. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. HEATHER WILLAUER, RESEARCH CHEMIST, U.S. NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY, SAYING: "Seawater's in equilibrium with the atmosphere. CO2 is hydrated as carbonic acid. And what we are doing is pulling it out of seawater. So once we've pulled it out of seawater, the ocean is ready to pull it back in from the atmosphere, 'cause it's in constant equilibrium. So what we hope is it's a carbon-neutral footprint. Pull it out of the ocean, you make the fuel, you burn the fuel, you put it back in the atmosphere, and it's just cyclical." And it's something she says could be used on a small scale with in the next next fifteen years...starting a process that might one day fuel the world's most powerful navy with the same inexhaustible resource that keep it afloat.