back to article US Navy aims to make jetfuel from seawater uranium

Coverage of recent US Navy research into producing jet fuel from CO2 and hydrogen has been widely reported under headlines such as "making jet fuel from seawater". The coverage illustrates not only declining modern understanding of science and technology, but also the sad eclipse of proper science fiction by vampire-lust …


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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Reprocess the people...

    Well, apparently the original article comes from New Scientist, where Alcubierre Drives, Computing beyond the "Turing Barrier" and Space Lifts are always considered a possibly once a few details are resolved.

  2. Stephen Blake


    So, you complain about misrepresentative headlines, and then subtitle yours with "Vampire-lust tales will rot your brain"... mild hypocrisy or underplayed irony?

  3. ElNumbre

    Anything like Uranus?

    They can try making that, but I don't know where my anium is. I do excrete a sticky brown/black liquid though, usually after several pints of Guinness.

  4. lyngvi

    percentages with no reference...

    "But Dorner and his colleagues have managed to get the amount of methane produced down to 30 per cent or so, using special catalysts. The "sea water" bit comes from the fact that Dorner has also noted that there's a fair bit of CO2 in sea water, plus hydrogen too if you have even more energy to crack water molecules apart."

    30 per cent of what? Hitting the vampire-lust novels a bit hard, are we?

  5. John Savard


    My initial reaction to the following sentence

    "But when speaking to people concerned primarily about the environment, it's generally seen as silly to start mentioning nuclear power."

    was that a distinction should be drawn between those who are genuinely concerned about the environment and those who noisily make a show of being concerned about the environment, the latter being those to whom it is silly to mention nuclear power.

    But upon reflection, I see I was being unfair. Those who are primarily concerned with the environment, to the extent of being not at all concerned with the economy or national defence and other such mere bagatelles will indeed consider the slight risks inherent in nuclear power not worth taking, and while it might be justified to impugn their good sense, or even their sanity, to impugn the sincerity of their concern with the environment would be unjust.

  6. TheBigCat

    From seawater is correct

    I would say that I make cookies from flour, etc., not from natural gas that my local utility uses to generate electricity.


  7. Iamfanboy
    Paris Hilton

    I dunno if I'd call...

    I dunno if I'd call vampire porn fans 'scifi readers', seeing as how it 1) has nothing to do with science, 2) has very little to do with fiction, and 3) has a lot to do with the ancient womanly habit of reading romance novels, it's just that these happen to be about horny vampires and foolish teenage girls instead of busty young Frenchwomen and dashing pirates.

    As someone else said, "We haven't been scared of vampires since Anne Rice cut off their balls and made them into imaginary boyfriends for fat goth girls."

  8. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    The real question is

    Which is better for fuelling vamire lust: hydrogen? or uranium?

  9. Xris M
    Thumb Up


    Do other US surface vessels like Cruise and Destroyers also run off jet fuel?

    The other limit of a carrier battle group is the fact that these vessels must also be refueled and technology like this could go a long way to improving their independence and reduce the need to rendezvous with tankers during combat situation.

    Just a thought.

  10. Steven Jones

    The "Fi" part stoof for "fiction"...

    I'm not sure what Lewis has been sniffing putting the poor coverage of basic scientific principles down to people not reading "proper" Sci-Fi these days. Heavens, I read enough of that in my days (before I went on to do a Physics degree) and relying on that stuff for a reasonable insight into basic principles of Physics would have got you nowhere. Yes, there were people like Arthur C Clarke who did know their stuff, but even he had to fall back on some fairly improbably devices and technologies in order to overcome fundamental limitations. I wouldn't say what he came up with was actually impossible, but lots of it was certainly conveniently invented. Most Sci-Fi writes didn't bother - they just used a few fancy words and got on with writing their space operas.

    In fact the more interesting Sci-Fi writes were more interested in the effects on society of some occasionally more mundane things. Like Wyndham speculating on what would happen if society discovered something which extended life expectancy (trouble with lichen). There were novels of overpopulation, exhausted resources, oppressive governmental systems. There's far more to learn from them than some daft idea that Sci-Fi taught people about the second law of thermodynamics. Star Wars is "proper" science fiction on than basis, but it's scientifically nonsense.

    On the little sea-water-into-jet-fuel storay, the New Scientist article goes on to say that it would only work as a greenhouse-beater if "clean" power could be used. I guess if anybody does manage to harness the deuterium in seawater in a fusion reactor, then the complete jet fuel source would come from that most abundant substance. However, the following statement is nonsense :-

    "As a result the primary limiting factor on how long a US carrier can keep flying its planes is actually the amount of jet fuel it can carry."

    Gee Lewis, if the Germans managed to resupply U-Boats at sea being heavily outnumbered by the Royal Navy, don't you think the US Navy can manage resupplying at sea given that they have overwhelming control of the oceans? Yes, it may be a trifle inconvenient and might involve a lot of tankers having to be shepherded around, but surely it isn't an insurmountable issue with the current state of military power. Of course the US (and western) dependency on imported hydrocarbons is of huge significance to ongoing power, but largely because it strikes at the very heart of western economic strength.

    As far as renewables go, there are outfits trying to use direct sunlight as a means of generating synthetic hydrocarbons - a long shot maybe, but those techniques can use far more of the Sun's energy than photoelectrics which can only use a small part of the spectrum. There is plenty of desert area on Earth. I'm not wholly convinced (even if it can be made to work, there are problems of getting the necessary water and the absolutely huge capital costs). However, it is maybe just possible for those solutions where only the power density (by volume) of hydrocarbons will do the job. It certainly seems unlikely to replace current oil supplies.

  11. Magellan

    Methane is not a problem

    Methane can be Fischer-Tropsched into jet fuel.

  12. Tarquelne

    Extra eco-friendly nuclear.

    I suggest harnessing the energy from detonating nuclear weapons to make fuel. Don't think of it as inefficient so much as leading to high employment. Clean-up, containment, medical...

    And, though it uses nuclear power, you're actually reducing the # of nuclear weapons. The employment is thus in a "green" industry. Win/win.

    I tried out this idea on some environmentalist friends and they were speechless. From wonder and amazement, I assume.

  13. Roger Stenning

    Vampire lust? That ain't Sci-Fi, thot thar's Fan-toss-ey!

    "Sci-fi fans used to read writers like Piper: now they mainly read about vampire lust, seemingly." Oh, really?

    I'd like to politely... ok, bluntly, then... point out that Vampires are FANTASY. Not Sci-Fi.

    Also, the list you so kindly pointed out is a compilation of best sellers in the "Science Fiction & Fantasy", not the last word.

    In other words, "I say old boy, *do* read the small print, what?!" ;-)

    Oh, and Piper's "Little Fuzzy" could, I agree, be classed as both, so how about "Science Fantasy" as a subject heading, instead? ;-)

    Ahem. I'll get me coat ;-)

  14. Mike VandeVelde

    What the??

    "Most analysis suggests that even the most extreme renewables plans would struggle to deliver as much energy as civilisation uses now. If the energy requirements of the transport sector increased by many times over - as it would if future transport ran on synthi-fuels made with CO2 - there'd be no hope of success at all."

    Did I just hear you admit that there is hope for renewable energy? Hah! Never thought I'd see the day!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    ooh someone mentioned H Beam Piper !

    Nice article, Lucas Trask would approve!

    "Space Viking" and "The Cosmic Computer" and the rest of his works are stunning, and available for free on the web. Mark Nelson has done stunning free audiobooks versions of many of Piper's works. I could go into some commentary about the splendid back stories about how important it is for people to be self-reliant and to have useful work to do, the importance of trade. Others cleverer than me will no doubt point out crypto-fascist undertones etc but to Nifelheim with them!

    Mine's the one with the "Nemesis" badge on the sleeve...

  16. ian 22

    Today's crap "science fiction"

    Well said Lewis. Science fiction was science-based when I were a lad. Now it's all fairy tale fantasy brain poison.

    I'll poison my brain with alcohol, thank you very much.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Well reasoned, but it'll never fly

    In San Francisco (aka 'hippietown'), the numerous electric busses all have signs reading "zero emission bus". I took particular pleasure pointing out to my tree hugging friends, that as their lovely busses are using electricity, and as that electricity gets generated up the coast somewhere, that a more appropriate sign would read "This bus emits radioactive waste, which is disposed of in a more or less responsible manner". (I know, more precisely, it *contributes* to the generation of radioactive waste, but work with me here.)

    Fun to watch the vein pulsing on their foreheads.

    Strange how the 'green' people have backed the developed world into the corner where the only reasonable option is more nuclear power. I'd have to say that this is not accidental. It's probably great fun to vilify a technology, drive its price down, buy some, and then force people to buy into it. As usual in the US, follow the money, and the idiocy starts to make more sense.

    This technology presents the interesting capability of storing transporting and safely using enormous amounts of energy, which is a problem in any energy infrastructure. I like it. Possibly we can work vampiric lust into the solution FTW.

  18. James Loughner

    Regen Circuit

    Just burn the Methane use the energy thus produced and feed the resultant CO2 back into the feed stock.

  19. Christian Berger

    There have been bad ideas in the past, too

    Like this one powering ships by sea water:

    You'd think in 1954 they would have figured out how batteries work.

  20. E 2

    It's a matter of the design, and of politics

    If fission reactor designs are used which are intrinsically unlikely to run away after a coolant failure then fission reactors are probably not a bad idea.

    I'm thinking of the heavy water CANDU, where the cooling water is also the moderator. If the water is lost in some mishap, the fission-produced neutrons are be going too fast to induce further fissions. All you have without heavy water is some moderately hot fuel. So a CANDU cannot do a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Probably there are other such designs.

    AFAIK though, CANDU type reactors are not as efficient as some other popular designs which can melt down. It comes down as always to a question of politics and management. Will we trust people to operate reactor designs that can melt down in exchange for some extra output or profit, or will we decide to go with safety at the cost of some output and profit?

  21. Charles Manning

    Repeal the laws of thermodynamics

    We perhaps needed them in the old days, but the world changes and we don't need these laws any more. They are unconstitutional and suppress our right to free expression.

  22. J 3


    "2) has very little to do with fiction"

    You mean it's mostly true, then?

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Vampire lust romance or not


    To 30% is the equivalent of down by 70%; roughly one third compared to the whole.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Make that jet fuel from H2O and CO2!

    Author writes, "it would actually be useful if you could build a plant on a carrier which could scoop CO2 out of the water, crack hydrogen from it too, and combine these to top off the ship's jet-fuel tanks."

    This is, perhaps, the key to the entire line of thought.

    If there was a significant drop in oil production due to transportation of oil to refineries (i.e. issues with a particular straight between Iran, Iraq, Quwait, and a variety of other small countries in the region allowing pirates to take out huge fuel ships) - the impact to global security would be substantial.

    Governments may decide to go to war because their people are freezing to death the winter, governments decide to go to war because their people are starving to death due to renewable fuels being made from food, governments may decide to go to war because international trade is disrupted by terrorists and impacting the well-being of their citizens due to the non-fulfillment of legal contracts due to lack of security - the question of how to aircraft carriers keep their assets patrolling a massive sea and nations bordering key straights & canals becomes incredibly important.

    Aircraft carriers with assets unbound to the international trade they protect is critical to protecting global citizenry. The person who wishes to bind the airplanes protecting the international waters to jet fuel, which can be illegally cut off, is not much different than the person who wishes police officers protecting the citizens remain subject to terrorists who may decide to plant road-side bombs.

    No war for oil - allow people to make their private contracts and trade their assets with security. Third parties violating the rights of citizens, companies, and governments to make & fulfill contracts affect the life of all earthlings - those unlawful third parties must not be allowed the ability to hold leverage to disrupt the people designated to protect us all.

    Make that jet fuel from H2O and CO2 and give those carriers greater capability to protect more independently!

  25. David Halko

    US Navy aims to make jetfuel from seawater (not uranium)

    Since the carbon dioxide id dissolved in sea water and water comes from seawater - the jet fuel really does come from the sea water!

    I am sure that other technologies could be leveraged (i.e. solar, wind, tidal) to create the energy to make the jet fuel or some component of jet fuel - but it would be far less efficient and those very same technologies could be better put to use in areas which can be free from nuclear power requirements.

  26. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


    30% of the total, obviously.

  27. John Lacey
    Big Brother

    Have some faith......

    At least 1984 was still in the top 10 books.......

  28. Anonymous Coward

    @E 2

    I'm no reactor expert but CANDU compared to PWR has one really annoying flaw : the plutonium produced by that type of reactor is much better weapon quality than the one from PWR, creating a greater risk of proliferation.

    Pebble-bed reactors, another design proposed to minimise the risks of core meltdown, has the disadvantage of using graphite as moderator. Graphite burns and is difficult to put out. The argument is that the athmosphere in the reactor is inert, but what if it isn't (breach of containement..)? And pebble bed fuel tends to be messier to reprocess, if I recall correctly.

  29. Dale 3

    Food from seawater

    Once they've mastered the topping-off of the ship's jet-fuel tanks, the next step will be to figure out how to make food out of seawater, in order to reduce the need to stop and replenish the larder during air dominance activities.

    I suppose they could give each crewman a rod and reel.

  30. Nigel 11

    Solar power is renewable and sufficient

    ""Most analysis suggests that even the most extreme renewables plans would struggle to deliver as much energy as civilisation uses now. "


    The sun delivers about a kilowatt per square metre. Tried and tested production-ready technology can capture this with 5% efficiency. Technology working in the lab can reach 20%.

    Either way, if you do the maths, you find that covering a small fraction of the world's deserts with solar power systems can meet our energy needs. (The area needed is actually not very different to the area that the human race has already covered with roof or tarmac).

    The problem is economic. Unless artificial penalties can be placed on the burning of fossil fuel, it's likely to remain cheaper to generate power by burning stuff until all the fossil fuel is gone. And given how much coal there is, that will be far too late for the environment.

  31. Tim Parker


    "Most analysis suggests that even the most extreme renewables plans would struggle to deliver as much energy as civilisation uses now."

    Much as I admire the good Mr.Page's work - this is horse-shit, or nearly so. Sufficient energy production from solar power has, on a global *production* basis, been possible for many years now with relatively modest requirements - even given the poor efficiencies in conversion. The elephant in the room is the practicality of distribution - so in that regard the view could be seen as plausible, so long as you're using a narrow definition of 'deliver'.

    ..and yes it is 'jet fuel from seawater' not Uranium, as pointed out by a few (mostly eloquently, IMO, by TheBigCat) just 'jet fuel from seawater probably using Uranium as a source of power' - tsk tsk

  32. ChessGeek

    Nice to see Piper mentioned

    And interesting, since I recently got my hands on and read a copy of "Murder in the Gunroom" - his sole work of detective fiction.

  33. Dave Bell

    Down Styphon!

    I've got the back of an envelope here which suggests putting this gear on a carrier isn't going to produce enough fuel to make a difference.

    And you'd have some really nasty damage-control problems.

  34. AlistairJ

    The solution is obvious

    all we have to do is stop going to war, and learn to love fat goth girls.

    i am way ahead of you all on this

  35. codemonkey

    Free energy....

    Free solar brainer...why not use it?

    Oh yeah, right now there's no one with the "cash" to make it happen. Wonder if we can get HUMANS involved to make it happen...If only this pesky system would step out the way :)

    Try another way:)

    I'm Connected

  36. Alex 11
    Thumb Down

    I hate hippies

    "Either way, if you do the maths, you find that covering a small fraction of the world's deserts with solar power systems can meet our energy needs"

    And what do you do when the wind blows and covers the panels with dust ? Put some sort of vibrating mechanism under them, right? And where do you get the power for that? Go back to hugging trees you moron.

  37. Andy 70
    Thumb Up


    made me smile. its ok, the hippies will keep the solar panels clean for free to save the earth..

    besides, paying them would make them think that they were "working for the man". win win.

    plus, couldn't we fire gas fueled power stations from the methane of hippie farts from their bean curd and lentil diet?

  38. ChrisC Silver badge

    @Alex 11

    Hmm, would it be too obvious to point out that:

    In order to stop a panel from generating *any* power, you'd need to cover it with a lot of dust.

    The arrays would be big. No, let's rephrase that. The arrays would huge. Massively so. We're not just talking about a handful of panels clustered together covering a few sq.m of desert.

    In order to ensure a consistent power supply around the clock, you'd need arrays distributed all around the globe.

    In order to provide a level of redundancy so that arrays can be taken off-grid for maintenance, and to allow for a level of demand growth before additional arrays need to be built, there'd be more arrays available at any moment than would be required just to meet the existing power requirements.

    So, short of a massive and sudden dust storm, it'd take a while for normal levels of windblown dust to completely knock out one panel, and even longer to knock out an entire array in a single location. Even if you did then knock out the entire array at location A, the chance that the arrays in locations B, C, D....ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha have also been knocked out is, I would suspect, rather slim.

    OK, but what if today's the day the gods of fate roll snake-eyes and it all goes fruit-shaped? Would it be too much to imagine each panel incorporating a battery backup, so that if it not only loses all of its own power but also any power from the grid, it is still able to perform a few cycles of self-cleaning?

    You're also assuming that cleaning dust off a panel requires electrical power... I'd then suggest that an army of Mrs Mopps be held on a state of constant alert by the electricity company, ready to be drop-shipped into the heart of any array beset by excessive levels of dust, armed with industrial sized yellow cloths and beer-keg sized bottles of Mr Sheen. Or, more realistically, you employ groups of locals to maintain the arrays, performing preventative cleaning so that, short of the aforementioned massive storm, the dust levels wouldn't be allowed to build up to the point where it became an issue, and so that, in the event of the aforementioned storm, the dust could start to be cleaned off again as soon as the storm abated.

  39. Steven Hunter

    Pedantic Alert!

    "(the reactors power the catapults as well as the ship's props)."

    Nope, sorry, the reactors are only used to boil water. The resultant steam is then used to drive turbines for on-board generation of electricity as well as driving the props and pressurizing the steam accumulators for eventual use with the on-deck catapults.

    Given the nature of the article, I felt compelled to point this out.


    Many Uses & back up systems....

    one thing seawater is used for with surplus steam engine quench is sodium hydroxide. large naval towns have plenty of that drain cleaner in stores.

    On plane, both jet fuel is used & atomic fuel to create steam.. there are two stators in each fan unit. it adds to lift off &safety in event of sour pile. off course also multiple engines for same reasons.


  41. Remy Redert

    @anon 07:43 GMT

    Not sure on CANDU's issues with by-products, however PBRs, despite using graphite as a moderator and one containment system, won't catch fire easily.

    Normal operating temperature for such a reactor is well below the temperature necessary for the graphite to catch fire, so in order for there to be a risk of fire the reactor would have to be in idle at near its maximum temperature. Even then, the burning graphite wouldn't expose the radioactive fuel, as one of the layers is air-tight and non-flammable.

    Reprocessing PBR fuel is difficult though, because the spheres are specifically designed not to break under any circumstances.

    A better idea may be liquid salt reactors, capable of sustaining very high operational temperatures, running on Thorium fuel and using a freeze plug which will, in the even of a complete coolant failure, drain the radioactive fuel into a prepared vat under the reactor, where it will be safely contained.

  42. Alex 11
    Thumb Down


    What are you smoking? "So, short of a massive and sudden dust storm," which happens all the time in desert.

    Do you know what we call sand traveling at high speed? Sand blasting. Even with an army of mops and a lot of panels, after a while they will be coroded beyond usefulness and then what? They aren't that recyclable and they aren't biodegradable. And neither are the battery back-ups.You should lay off the pot.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Alex11, others

    Well, assuming wikipedia is right, total power consumption for 2005 was 500exajoules (that's from all sources- not just fossil fuels but nuclear, renewables, everything). To provide this amount of energy over a year with a 5% efficient solar cell that only works for 4 hours a day (to cope with odd hours, lowered efficiency due to clouds etc)) would take 73,410 square miles.

    Thats a 25 mile wide strip right across Africa's widest bit (according to Google Earth).

    The other problem with this sort of plan is that it means that we're hugely reliant on other- notoriously corrupt and unstable- countries to deliver our power. We're not too happy topping up our oil from the Russians- imagine how we'd feel if we were essentially at the mercy of this week's winner of some long-running African coup? So we'd have to defend "our" section of the world's solar array- and the power cable.

    The sand problem could be solved. I'm not sure how, but it seems like the sort of thing that'd be possible to fix. Perhaps with some sort of wall which holds the sand back and a hydrofluoric acid moat at the bottom of the wall that carries the sand off to a disposal area where it's un-dissolved and used to reclaim land or fill bags to help hold back the ever-increasing tides?

    We could also run it- far wider- through Saudi Arabia and parts of Australia. But having the Saudis in charge of our power isn't something that I'd find particularly reassuring, and Oz would mean there's a whole half a world ready to cut our power. Alternatively it'd end up being run through the US and the cable would 'accidentally' fail just as they hit peak power consumption in winter.

    So it's really not a good idea. If we still had an Empire- or if anyone else did so there was a relatively stable set of rulers- it may make sense.

    Nuclear power, however, is derived from materials that are mined in places like Canada and Australia- stable, friendly-to-us places. It doesn't add to greenhouse gasses and produces a volume of waste orders of magnitude smaller than normal power plants. It also produces enough "excess" power to let us create artificial fossil fuels (which the article was about), allowing us to smooth (or even remove the need for) the transition from fossil fuels to pure-electric.

  44. ChrisC Silver badge


    I don't smoke anything. However, as an engineer, rather than use problems as an excuse to ridicule an idea and the people who think it has any merit, I see them as opportunities to consider ways around them.

    Yes, I know big sand storms happen a fair amount, but there are still sufficient and sufficiently lengthy periods without storms in any given location to allow an array in that area to generate. To protect the active surfaces of the panels from abrasion, you install automatic shutters to shield the panels when there's enough airborne sand to cause concern. It doesn't matter that with the shutters closed, the panels won't be generating power, because they wouldn't be able to generate much in the middle of the storm anyway.

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