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NRL researchers optimizing two-step process for synthesis of jet-fuel-range hydrocarbons from CO2

Researchers at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) are investigating an optimized two-step process for the synthesis of liquid hydrocarbons in the jet fuel range from CO2 and hydrogen. The process, reported in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, could leverage a recently reported process, also developed by NRL, to recover CO2 from sea water.

CO2 is 140 times more concentrated in seawater than in air on a weight per volume basis (g/mL), the authors note. With scaling and optimization of this CO2 recovery technology already underway, NRL researchers and others are working on new and improved catalysts for the conversion of CO2to useful hydrocarbons.

Broadly, in the first stage of such a process, CO2 and H2 are reacted over an iron-based catalyst to produce light olefins (C2 - C6). These light olefins can then be further reacted in a second, sequential reactor by oligomerizing to higher linear olefins. These higher hydrocarbons can be direct substitutes for crude-oil-distilled middle-distillate fuels.

The NRL team according focused on two main objectives within the study: first, to develop an optimized catalyst for CO2 hydrogenation to produce the initial light olefins; and second, to use pure ethylene as a model olefin for the development of new and improved ASA-supported nickel catalysts for the direct and selective oligomerization to the higher molecular weight olefins.

The mechanism of the first stage first produces CO and water. The CO is carried forward in an exothermic FT synthesis step, producing predominantly mono-unsaturated hydrocarbons. Carbon dioxide is also hydrogenated directly to methane, in a widely cited thermodynamically favorable and highly competitive side reaction.

The water formed in the primary reactions negatively influences catalyst activity and product selectivity.

One objective of this study is to modify the catalyst surface to prevent the water vapor produced in the reaction sequence from negatively influencing catalyst activity by reoxidation or accelerated crystallization of the metal oxide surface. By decreasing the effects of water vapor on the catalyst surface, the equilibrium at the catalyst surface should favorably shift to the production of desired intermediates such as olefins over intermediates such as CO or methane.

—Drab et al.

The team investigated γ-alumina-supported iron-based catalysts modified with manganese and potassium promoters and a silica-stabilized coating under fixed-bed reactor conditions. The stabilizer is introduced by impregnating the K/Mn/Fe on Al2O3 catalyst with tetraethylorthosilicate (TEOS) to minimize the deactivating effects of water on catalyst activity in CO2 hydrogenation. The K/Mn/Fe on Al2O3 catalyst modified with the TEOS and reduced in CO produced a lighter end fraction of olefins compared to the catalyst reduced in H2.

Towards the second objective, they found that ethylene oligomerization over pelletized amorphous silica−alumina (ASA)-supported Ni catalysts demonstrated high conversion and selectivity toward the jet fuel fraction (C8−C16) at a very low mass hourly space velocity (MHSV).

These results indicate promising directions for conditions and catalyst compositions to use in the scale-up demonstration of CO2-to-fuel conversion, where there is ongoing work to improve reactor design, catalyst compositions, and reaction and process conditions (e.g., CO2 hydrogenation in a single step to liquid olefins).

—Drab et al.


  • David M. Drab, Heather D. Willauer, Matthew T. Olsen, Ramagopal Ananth, George W. Mushrush, Jeffrey W. Baldwin, Dennis R. Hardy, and Frederick W. Williams (2013) Hydrocarbon Synthesis from Carbon Dioxide and Hydrogen: A Two-Step Process. Energy & Fuels doi: 10.1021/ef4011115



"CO2 is 140 times more concentrated in seawater than in air on a weight per volume basis (g/mL)"

Does this produce significant or trace jet fuel percentage amounts?

Is it remotely potentially economical?


If you have hydrogen, you can do all kinds of reactions. The problem is getting the hydrogen or rather getting the energy to create the hydrogen.


The US Navy has many Nuclear-powered vessels. If these could generate their own jet-fuel, US Aircraft carriers could refuel their planes at sea. This would be a really significant military benefit.



That is exactly where this is headed, very perceptive.

Roger Pham

A very ingenious idea! Getting CO2 from sea water instead of from the air!

Solar energy can also be used to create H2, then combined with CO2 from sea water to produce liquid hydrocarbon. The US SouthWest Desert region has plenty of sunshine, as well as access to sea water from the Gulf of Mexico and West Coast. It looks like the US can produce synthetic liquid fuel here at home til the end of time!...So, then, what will be the need for the US Naval Fleet Carrier, once all the oil that we will ever need can be synthesized here at home ?

Declare War on Global Warming and Climate Change in order to use the vast $700 Billion yearly US defense budget and we will have plenty of money to build vast arrays of solar colectors and H2 electrolyzers and CO2 extrator plants from sea water. Climate catastrophies have claimed US lives and properties perhaps on par with terrorists that justified multiple US war declarations abroad!
All existing defense contractors and the oil and gas industry, and all major players who have benefited greatly from US Wars, will participate in this massive quasi "military" buildup in order to facilitate Congressional Approval and Appropriation.

No need to go to war with small defenseless dictatorships, nor risking provoking WW3 with other world powers, just so as to justify this $700 B defense budgets yearly, while saving lives and limbs and the sanity of our US Servicemen and women, and the environment, and our future generations, at the same time! No need to drill oil in pristine Artic or at several miles deep under the sea and risking major environmental catastrophies.

A very ingenious and timely technological achievement, indeed!

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