Military Update: Did a Cancer Researcher Inspire the Navy to Turn Seawater into Jet Fuel?

The United States Navy has revealed that its research laboratory is developing a technology that converts carbon dioxide in seawater and combines it with the hydrogen (seawater is hydrogen and oxygen with lots of dissolved salts and minerals) into jet fuel. The fuel that navy jets use is called JP-5. Producing it while at sea on an aircraft carrier eliminates the need to have tankers tag along for refueling purposes. Is the navy blowing smoke or can seawater turn into not only jet fuel, but fuel to put in your automobile?

What the Navy hasn’t revealed is how? And that brings us to the story of John Kanzius, a radio executive living in Erie, Pennsylvania, who sold his interest in his radio stations after contracting leukemia and dedicated himself to finding a way to use radio waves to cure his cancer. In 2009, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Kanzius who talked about his radio wave machine. Kanzius eventually died from the leukemia early in 2009 but his invention lives on, a technology that may be the inspiration behind the navy’s seawater to jet fuel research.

John Kanzius took his knowledge of broadcast technology and his background in electrical engineering to invent a non-invasive radio frequency device to attack and kill cancer cells. Today researchers continue to develop his invention.                                                 Source: Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation

What Kanzius invented was a radio frequency generator or RFG. The idea was to inject gold nanoparticles into tumors and zap them with RFG radio waves. Curiously, the tumor cells including leukemia cells and not healthy cells attracted the gold nanoparticles. The result, in theory, and in petri dishes, was cancer cells dead, healthy cells unharmed.

During an RFG demonstration it was discovered that water vapour when exposed to radio waves would condense. This led to efforts to see if the RFG technology could separate the components of seawater. The hope was RFG could be used for desalinization. But a surprising side effect of RFG and seawater was ignition. You could burn seawater when exposed to RFG. That’s because seawater contains hydrogen and we know from the Hindenburg just how volatile hydrogen can be.

So is the navy using RFG to extract hydrogen from seawater? Well not necessarily. But the technology Kanzius developed has shown us the potential of seawater to energy conversion technology.

What the U.S. Navy Has Invented

The Naval Research Laboratory is using an electrochemical acidification cell (see image below) to take seawater through a two-step process to capture carbon dioxide and produce hydrogen gas. Carbon dioxide is concentrated in seawater at levels 140 times greater than in the atmosphere. A portion of it is carbonic acid and carbonate, but most is bicarbonate. Harvesting all that carbon coupled with the hydrogen is what the electrochemical acidification cell does employing a catalyst similar to that used to create synthetic oil from coal but with much greater efficiency.

The electrochemical codification carbon capture cell is seen in this picture. The technology is designed to convert seawater into jet fuel.                            Source: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Today the American navy operates 15 tankers carrying 13.6 billion liters (600 million gallons) of fuel to keep its fleet operational on the high seas. If the technology can produce JP-5  at between $1.25 and $1.50 per liter ($3 to $6 per gallon) it would reduce the logistical support requirements and environmental impact of operations dramatically.

Could we see more than jet fuel coming from this technology? Will we, in the future, convert seawater into gasoline and diesel? At current gas pump prices, $1.30 a liter here in Canada, seawater is starting to sound cost competitive with oil pumped out of the ground.

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.


  • Niccolo5

    Sounds great. The Navy could power the fuel-from-seawater process with the new Cogar International Hydro-Electric Reactors. Once the Navy gets their Hydro-Electric Reactors humming, the seawater jet fuel project will be a no-brainer. Soon all surface vessels could run on combustion turbines fired by jet fuel made from seawater. But my instincts are shouting, “The Navy will need to pump about 50-times more energy into the conversion process than will ever be released by burning the fuel produced. Don’t be at the front of the line to invest in this one.”

    • lenrosen4

      The one proviso in converting seawater to fuel is the energy input versus output. For the military that is not a consideration. For laypeople and commercial business it’s another story.

      • Niccolo5

        Len Says: “The one proviso in converting seawater to fuel is the energy input versus output. For the military that is not a consideration.”

        That is a fact not in evidence. US Supercarriers and submarines use highly enriched uranium fuel and the reactors are basically sealed. The initial fuel charge must provide all energy for the expected 40-life of the reactor/ship. The initial fuel charge contains a finite amount of extractable energy. If the Navy uses the reactor energy to produce jet fuel, that’s energy that will not be available to propel the ship decades into the future. Hence the service life, or performance, of the ship itself would be reduced by the amount of reactor energy depleted by jet fuel production. The navy got its hugely expensive supercarriers from Congress on the basis of a projected 40-year service life. It’s a pretty safe bet some members of Congress would be raising a major ruckus if the Navy began to deliberately shorten the service life of its supercarriers by drawing excessive energy from the sealed reactors.

        There is also the major consideration of the sizeable well-established constituency filling its rice bowls by selling jet fuel and supply ships to the Navy. When Churchill as First Admiralty Lord tried to replace the Royal Navy’s warships’traditional coal fuel with more efficient and higher performance oil, the coal constituency mounted a vigorous anti-oil campaign that nearly blocked the transition and almost imprisoned Churchill. Apparently Churchill had secretly accepted 5,000 pounds from the oil lobby, ostensibly to lubricate and promote the complex transition. (Since England then had no known domestic sources of oil, but had plenty of coal owned by the aristocracy, secure perpetual sources of oil had to be “negotiated” to replace the coal. Churchill was greatly shamed and eventually forced to disgorge the oil lobby’s lubrication money. See:

        The scale of complexity and factional forces involved in the Royal Navy’s coal to oil transition were huge. For a somewhat detailed history see:

        We should expect a similar but smaller scale resistance to any US Navy attempt to produce jet fuel from seawater. The political resistance is probably insurmountable, especially since the extra reactor power draw would in truth reduce supercarrier service life.

  • HRCohen

    I think I heard of nuclear ships being refueled in the past.

    A simple solution is to put the nuclear units aboard the tankers to create the JP-5 and continue to transfer the fuel to the ships requiring it. You might want to retrofit those tankers with more armament since they become dramatically more worthy of capture or destruction. The next generation might be more of a frigate that might tow bladders of fuel. Or we can go the stealth cargo submarine route if it is justified.