NRL Fuel from Sea Concept Receives POPULAR SCIENCE Best of What's New Award

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Electrolytic Cation Exchange Module (E-CEM), used in the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuel—fuel from seawater—has received the POPULAR SCIENCE 2014 Best of What's New Award.

ElectrolyticThe Electrolytic Cation Exchange Module (E-CEM), developed at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), provides the Navy the capability to produce fuel stock (LNG, CNG, F-76, JP-5) at sea, or in remote locations, reducing the logistics tail on fuel delivery with no environmental burden and the potential to increase the Navy's energy security and independence. A lab-scale research module, located at NRL's Key West Marine Corrosion Facility, Florida, has successfully demonstrated proof-of-concept for recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) from seawater, and the conversion of CO2 to hydrocarbons that can be used to produce designer fuel.
(Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)

For 27 years, Popular Science has honored the innovations that surprise and amaze us—those that make a positive impact on our world today and challenge our view of what's possible in the future. said Cliff Ransom, Editor-in-Chief of Popular Science. The Best of What's New Award is the magazine's top honor, and the 100 winners—chosen from among thousands of entrants—each a revolution in its field.

A process developed at NRL by research chemist, Dr. Heather Willauer, the E-CEM uses electricity to recover, through a 'carbon-capture' process, carbon dioxide (CO2) from seawater, and the production of hydrogen gas (H2). The conversion of CO2 and H2 to hydrocarbons (organic compounds consisting of hydrogen and carbon) by a gas-to-liquids process can be then used to produce designer synthetic fuels.

In 2013, Willauer and a team of NRL scientists demonstrated use of the synthesized fuel to power and fly an off-the-shelf radio-controlled aircraft, fitted with an unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

The flight test exhibited, for the first time, the potential for transition of this novel technology from the laboratory to full-scale commercial implementation, said Willauer. Further, it demonstrates that fuel recovered from a gas-to-liquids process provides proof-of-concept for a process to extract carbon dioxide, and produce hydrogen gas, from seawater.

The process efficiencies and the capability of the E-CEM to simultaneously produce large quantities of hydrogen gas and process seawater, without the need for additional chemicals or pollutants, has made these technologies far superior to previously developed and tested membrane and ion exchange technologies for recovery of CO2 from seawater or air.

We are greatly pleased and excited to receive this outstanding recognition from Popular Science, Willauer said. In acceptance of this award, I would however, be remiss to not also mention U.S. Naval Reserve Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Felice DiMascio, for conceptualizing the E-CEM module, and the guidance and support from NRL leadership past and present, to include Dr. Dennis Hardy, Dr. Fred Williams, Dr. Bhakta Rath, and our current Director of Research, Dr. John Montgomery, whom all share in the success and realization of this program.

Moving forward, NRL hopes to develop the E-CEM technology to the next stages of scalability, to increase efficiencies, output volumes, and costs.

Revolutionary products that transform their category, that solve an unsolvable problem, that incorporate entirely new ideas and functions are the qualities that earn a product the POPULAR SCIENCE 'Best of What's New' Award. Other NRL technologies to have been awarded the distinction as a top 100 technology by Popular Science Magazine include the Deep Space Program Science Experiment, or Clementine (1994), and the Drug Detection Device, Lifepoint (2002).