Naval scientists are turning seawater into biofuel. Besides using a readily available resource, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory thinks its special process could make seawater jet fuel as cheap as regular gasoline.

Refueling at sea currently costs a ton of money because all that fuel requires extra fuel to be delivered. This week the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Navy's scientific lab based in D.C., announced that it's hard at work on an intricate process that breaks seawater down into hydrogen gas and hydrogen, which could then be converted into biofuel.

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The NRL's press release about their scientific process had echoes of an academic paper for a chemistry journal, but from what I gather they've got a portable prototype called a "carbon capture skid" that's about five feet tall. Inside are three chambers designed to produce hydrogen gas and capture carbon dioxide.


After the seawater goes through the skid, there'd be a two-step process to make liquid hydrocarbons — proto-jet fuel if you will — from the hydrogen gas and CO2. Then that liquid would just need to be converted using another reaction. We're not at a point where this all works smoothly, yet. The NRL is still developing all those steps.

"The potential payoff is the ability to produce JP-5 fuel [jet fuel] stock at sea reducing the logistics tail on fuel delivery with no environmental burden and increasing the Navy's energy security and independence," Navy research chemist Heather Willauer said in the release.

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Over the course of last year, the Navy delivered around 600 million gallons to its vessels at sea. Such a feat required running 15 replenishment oilers worldwide. But as Treehugger's Mat McDermott rightly pointed out, the green aspect here isn't reducing emissions but reducing the energy required to transport fuel in the first place. Emissions would still be similar to what they are now.

The economic advantages to this emerging tech might be more persuasive. The NRL's initial studies predict jetfuel could cost as little as $3 to $6 a gallon using this seawater process. That's a boatload of savings.