US Navy making fuel from seawater

The US Navy has come up with a process that manages to take Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide out of seawater and convert them into long chain hydrocarbons, such as jet fuel or gasoline. The process uses electrical energy to drive the reaction, and obviously requires more energy than they get out of it in fuel. But if the electricity is generated from reactors or some other carbon neutral method, then this will be one method to get fuel. Their production ship can produce fuel at about $6 / gallon, but since about half of that cost is for the ship itself, a shoreline based system should cost about $3 / gallon.

Hopefully the process doesn’t involve releasing the CO2 from the seawater into the atmosphere. Since the process needs the carbon atoms, I expect they use almost all of the carbon they get from CO2.

Other sources:

  1. NavyTimes

Power from a volcano?

How would you like to get your electricity from a volcano? Well, that’s a little hyperbolic, but in Iceland scientists have drilled down to a magma chamber. The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project was trying to get more geothermal heat. In 2009 one of their holes broke into a magma chamber, with a temperature close to 1000 °C. This did not create a volcano, because the magma is at low pressure. If they use this to generate power, it will be the most efficient geothermal power station.

Oil from algae?

A new technology can create crude oil in under an hour from algae. While there are already techniques to do this, they are expensive and slow, requiring drying the algae before turning it into oil. This new technique uses wet algae, so it is faster, and doesn’t use as much energy.

If this can be scaled up, then it solves one of the two main problems with oil synthesis from algae. The other is growing enough algae in the first place. Scientists are working on that problem.

Because algae uses carbon dioxide from the air, this method would be carbon neutral, or possibly even carbon negative because not all the carbon gets burned. Carbon that isn’t burned can be used in plastics, and that would be kind of like carbon sequestration.

Yes, there are many other problems that need to be worked out before this is close to feasible. But I like that the research is being done on methods like this. I’d like it even better if we can have a system that doesn’t have emissive pollutants.

Will we be mass-generating power with nuclear fusion soon?

For a long time nuclear power has had its problems. It creates toxic nuclear waste. The reactor can break and release radioactive particles to nature. Meltdown. But these are all problems of nuclear fission reactors. And the bad kind1 of fission reactors to boot.

However, a team from the UK Atomic Energy Authority thinks that nuclear fusion reactors will be feasible in 10 years or so. Fusion reactors make energy differently. Instead of using large atoms that break down and release radioactivity, fusion fuses together hydrogen atoms, like what our sun has been doing for 5 billion years. This generates energy, and makes helium. But it doesn’t make radioactive waste. Until now it’s been too tricky to do and get more energy out than it took to get it started and keep it going. But that’s changing. If it works, we could have a resurgence of nuclear power—the clean kind of nuclear power. The fuel is plentiful, and there’s no annoying waste to deal with. We’ll have to see how safe these reactors can be made, and the technology is new.

1 Uranium and plutonium reactors. These were originally built in the US to make the raw materials for nuclear weapons.


Fracking releasing radium into wastewater

Fracking seems to be causing problems for wastewater treatment plants. These plants were built before fracking was invented, and they aren’t able to handle the wastewater generated by fracking. Radium, a very radioactive element, has been found downstream of these treatment plants, is appearing in high enough levels to cause places to be deemed a radioactive waste site.

The radium is naturally found in the layer of shale that has natural gas, the target for fracking. But when the shale is fractured, the radium is released into the wastewater. This wastewater goes to the water treatment plants, but they aren’t setup to handle this level of radioactivity. The radioactive water that was studied is released into streams, and then the Allegheny River, a water source for Pittsburg, PA.