Thursday, April 01, 2010

US Military to Use Small Nukes for Synth-Fuels

The US military already powers much of its naval fleet with nuclear reactors. Now it is planning to power much of its land operations with nuclear reactors -- and to use excess electrical power from the nukes to power synthetic jet fuel production for aircraft, using waste materials from base operations.
At the moment, a military base in Afghanistan is likely to be powered by generators running on diesel. Its planes and helicopters will be burning through huge amounts of JP-8.

All this fuel has to be brought in by road convoys, along dangerous routes plagued by ambushes and bombings. It would be great if instead of diesel generators, the base's electricity came from a reactor that wouldn't need refuelling for years on end - probably not until after the war was over, in fact. It would be even greater if the reactor could also top up the base's supplies of JP-8 for its thirsty choppers and planes.

The problem here, though, is one of getting hold of the necessary hydrogen and carbon feedstocks with which to synthesise the jet juice. There's no limitless supply of seawater here.

Hydrogen could still be obtained from river or lake water, by using reactor power to crack it using electrolysis. Getting hold of the necessary carbon could be difficult, however, as huge - probably prohibitive - amounts of water would need to be processed to extract useful amounts of CO2.

The Pentagon RFI has this to say:

Technical approaches to fuel production should accommodate a broad range of hydrogen and carbon feedstocks (water/seawater, biomass, waste materials, etc). Concepts that involve carbon capture or sequestration should be well justified in terms of technical feasibility given known carbon concentrations in the proposed carrier stream.
OK, where are we going to find a whole lot of carbon waste here at Kandahar? Hey, what's that horrible smell?
"Biomass/waste materials" most probably alludes to the huge, odorous lakes of sewage which have accumulated next to some of the bigger bases in Afghanistan, much complained of by the resident servicemen. This could potentially be an excellent carbon source, and turning it into jetfuel would have the added benefit of making the bases pleasanter to be in.

That said, such a base's aircraft use huge amounts of fuel: if the local reactor were supplying all or most of it, even thousands of gutsy troops' output might not be enough to keep it supplied. Logistics officers might find that they had to run just as many troublesome convoys to get hold of enough feedstock (sewage, wood, crops, coal, whatever) as they formerly did to bring in fuel - probably more, in fact, as the feedstocks would be bulkier and heavier than the resulting JP-8.

But the electrical power savings would still be there: and any fuel which could be produced using local materials would ease the burden on the supply chain. It might even be possible, perhaps, to make diesel for ground vehicles as well as JP-8 for aircraft:

It may be assumed that the desired fuel end product is JP-8; however, responders should discuss the degree to which their fuel production technology could be used to produce other mobility fuels including gasoline and diesel fuels.

This sort of technology could also have serious implications outside the military, of course. Any nation with nuclear powerplants and a desire to cut carbon emissions and/or fossil fuel imports could use it for aviation; and potentially road transport too. _ Register_via_NextBigFuture

Small nuclear reactors will be mobile and versatile enough for many different uses. They will be used to liberate oil from oil sands and oil shales, as well as from heavy oils -- thus adding massive amounts of oil to world reserves.

They will also power remote earth stations and outposts, and space stations, outposts, colonies, and industries. It is likely that larger seasteads will use small reactors for baseload power -- particularly those seasteads with large mining operations and other power-hungry applications such as ocean-based space launch.

Labels: ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my last comment of the evening, but a few years ago I used to browse through Soldier of Fortune on the newsstand. One author in SoF speculated that the Pentagon was spending $50/gallon to deliver diesel fuel to the occupied territories of Iraq.

I don't have a link to the article, and even if I did the author had no sources for his claim.

8:53 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts