On April 7th, 2014, scientists from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory announced that they had been successful in flying a radio-controlled scale-model of an old WWII era plane, the P-52 Mustang, using liquid hydrocarbon fuel. Not impressed? How about if we tell you that the fuel was created entirely from ordinary seawater?
The researchers who have been working on this endeavor for over a decade, were able to accomplish this amazing feat with the help of a super efficient catalytic convertor called electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM). The converter extracts the hydrogen and carbon dioxide (also present in the ocean in large quantities) and converts them into liquid hydrocarbons. What makes the breakthrough even more exciting is that E-CEM is able to process seawater without chemicals or pollutants. This means that unlike previous carbon dioxide extraction methods, the fuel produced is clean and ready to use.
Some experts believe that most exciting aspect of this breakthrough is that it eliminates the dependence on fossil fuels, which are getting harder to extract. Also while the fuel is not 'green', it is carbon neutral. That means that the same amount of CO2 will be extracted and returned to the seawater, each time. Also, if the systems can be installed inside navy ships, they will be able to manufacture their own fuel and always remain operational. This is currently not the case because the ships require frequent fuel-ups with tankers, while at sea.
Others are not so sure. They believe that the process requires so much energy that while it may work for the US Department of Defense, it may never be cost effective for the rest of the world.
Given that the seawater fuel is expected to cost between $3-6 USD to produce, they are probably right. However, if the costs can be brought lower, it would be a great advantage to both the world and, the U.S. Department of Defense, who spends a staggering $3 million USD on fuel, every single day of the year.
The scientists believe that it will take another 7-10 years before the fuel will be available commercially. They maintain that once the technology is ready, it could also be used to create fuel for horticulture and aquaculture use. The next question on everyone's minds: 'When can I use it to fuel my car?' !
Resources: blog.discoverymagazine.com, news.yahoo.com,gizmag.com