Seawater is salty, undrinkable, and a potential source of planet-saving fuel. Hold up. Fuel? Yes, that’s right. We have the technology to convert seawater into liquid fuel.

Could your car use it? Would it be carbon neutral? How would it affect your vacation plans?

You’re up in the air, staring down at the beautiful ocean below. It’s your first carbon neutral flight and you couldn’t be more excited. Sure, the tickets were a little more expensive. But jet-setting without the environmental cost of carbon emission is well worth it.

You think about how amazing it is that the very ocean below you is the same thing powering this large commercial jet. But how did we get here?

In 2014, the United States Navy successfully created liquid hydrocarbon fuel from seawater. They did this by extracting carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from seawater and using a relatively cheap catalyst to convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.

And just in case I lost you there, a catalyst is a chemical that lowers the amount of energy needed for another chemical reaction to happen. After this chemical reaction is complete, the carbon monoxide is transformed into fuel. The U.S. Navy was able to generate 4 liters (0.88 gallons) a day in the pilot program.

Scaled up, this seawater technology could completely replace fossil fuels, which would be a big deal. In 2017, the U.S. military bought 269,230 barrels of oil every day. Burning all this fuel emitted over 25,000 kilotons (50,000,000,000 lb) of CO2.

Not only that, but because this seawater fuel is liquid, it could be used in existing cars and airplanes. With transportation being responsible for 14% of allgreenhouse gas emissions, developing this alternative fuel source would help us eliminate almost 100,000,000,000 metric tons (100 gigatons) of Carbon Dioxide from our atmosphere by the year 2050.

The immediate cost would be more expensive than oil. But if we don’t cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, severe storms, droughts, and famine await. And it’s probably much better to spend a little more upfront to avoid such a mess.

There are three big advantages to this alternative fuel source. First, the resource is abundant. Since 70% of our planet is covered by ocean, we already have a lot of seawater ready to go. Second, most modern day objects already use liquid fuels, so it would be an easy conversion.

And third, liquid fuels are easier to transport compared to gas. If you put this new seawater fuel into your current car, you wouldn’t notice any difference. It would look and smell the same.

You would still be emitting Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere when you drove around. But because you are only emitting the exact amount of Carbon Dioxide that was extracted from the seawater initially, it is a carbon neutral fuel source.

Of course, it would only be truly carbon neutral if the whole process was also carbon neutral. From building the liquid storage tanks, to pumping water, and creating the catalyst, it would all have to release zero carbon dioxide, which means we would still need to supplement this process with wind or solar energy.

This method of creating liquid fuel is still early in the developmental process. Even so, it’s important to support new technology being created to replace our current, harmful fossil fuel consumption.

Raise your voice and encourage a cleaner and greener future. We need to push our governments to move forward responsibly and invest in technology and practices that could save our planet. Maybe we could raise money for green tech by charging corporations for any pollution they inflict on our environment. But that’s a topic for another What IF.

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3 years ago

Thanks for such a wonderful explanation and for providing awesome content.
I really like the way you explain things.
But, I think you should provide links in the description to which you referred while compiling the content.