The U.S. Navy could soon be sailing through an ocean of jet fuel if new research proves economical.
By extracting dissolved carbon dioxide from seawater and combining it with hydrogen stripped from water molecules, Navy chemists hope to one day secure a cheap and steady fuel source for its fleet of jets.
"The U.S. Navy is surrounded by seawater and the Navy needs jet fuel," said Robert Dorner, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. who works on the technology.
"In the seawater you have CO2 and you have hydrogen. The question is how do you convert that into jet fuel."
The answer, according to Dorner, is a modified version of the chemical reaction known as the Fischer-Tropsch process.
Typically Fischer-Tropsch starts with carbon monoxide and hydrogen and, using metal catalysts and heat, ends with a mixture of methane, waxes and synthesis gas (syngas), which can then produce fuel or plastic.
Fischer-Tropsch is expensive and energy-intensive, which often limits its usefulness. One of the few times it has proven economical was using solid coal to produce liquid fuel for World War II Germany.