Future Fuel

Not directly related to space settlement, but still interesting to think about.

Fascinating Future

The age of (cheap) oil is doomed in the long run, even if we do not care about climate change, as petroleum is a finite resource which would eventually be depleted. However, our modern industrialized society requires a lot of energy and without it our planet cannot sustain a ten billion population.

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8 thoughts on “Future Fuel”

  1. There’s enough uranium in the seawater of the world’s oceans to power human civilization pretty much until the sun finally makes the Earth uninhabitable.

    You can use nuclear electricity to convert seawater into renewable methanol, gasoline, jet fuel, dimethyl ether, etc. And these fuels could be shipped to coastal towns and cities around the world. Methanol is an excellent replacement for natural gas in natural gas power plants. And its relatively cheap and easy to convert natural gas power plants to use renewable methanol. Renewable methanol can also be converted into renewable gasoline.

    The export of uranium to future martian colonies might also be viable, possibly competing with the rich sources of thorium exported to Mars from the surface of the Moon. Since natural uranium (uranium 238) contains less than 1% fissile uranium (uranium 235), it should be pretty safe to export uranium by rocket to orbit.


    1. 1) It’s true that the total amount of uranium dissolved in Earth’s ocean vastly exceeds all known land-based reserves. However, the main challenge to extract uranium from seawater is the rather low concentration. With currently available technology it’s believed that it will take too much energy to get uranium from seawater. We have discussed this earlier: https://republicoflagrangia.org/2012/12/13/is-helium-3-really-the-future/

      Not withstanding this, there are researchers seeking methods to reduce the amount of energy required for maritime uranium extraction. But it has to be seen, if these attempts will be successful.

      2) Seawater is indeed a good resource to produce synfuels from. Obviously it contains hydrogen and oxygen, but the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide is substantially higher that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

      3) I do not think it will be necessary to export uranium or thorium from the Moon to Mars, given that Mars probably have its own own substantial uranium & thorium reserves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ore_resources_on_Mars#Heat_from_impacts). Besides that this site does not advocate colonizing Mars anyway.

      4) Finally, this piece is not that much about the technology used but more concerned about the consequences synfuels, regardless they are made using nuclear or other types power, for geopolitical relations. Please read the full piece for that.

        1. I am aware of such methods and I am following it some interest. Nevertheless, there are several questions that should be asked.

          1) How much of this material is required for each kilogram of uranium extracted?

          2) How much energy is required to produce a kilogram of this material?

          3) For what period of time can this material be used, before it needs to be replaced?

      1. The Moon and Mars are relatively deficient in uranium relative to the Earth. And Mars is also deficient in thorium relative to the Earth and the Moon. The Moon has very rich thorium deposits in some regions.

        The richest thorium deposits on the Moon are 12 parts per million while the richest thorium deposits on Mars are about 1.65 part per million.

        The richest uranium deposits on the Moon are about 2 parts per million which also appears to b true on the surface of Mars.



        Click to access 2660.pdf


        1. Your second link demonstrates that the Moon is deficient in Uranium compared to Earth, though I cannot found anything about Lunar thorium deposits or anything related to Mars.

          The third one does not really compare Terrestrial and Martian uranium and thorium reserves. It rather compares U & Th concentration between meteorites from Mars found here on Earth and Martian topsoil:

          It has been a long standing paradox that uranium, thorium and potassium, appear hyper-abundant on Mars surface when compared to Mars meteorites, which are believed to sample subsurface rocks.

          [emphasis mine]

          This suggests that there is some substantial amount of Uranian and Thorium on the surface of Mars, at least in a higher concentration than beneath the surface. This would be in fact good news for Martian colonists as they would only need to process the surface to mine Uranium or Thorium.

          Unfortunately, your final link appears to be empty. So I cannot comment on that.

          In regard of your first link, I think that if one is considering to use Lunar resources to solve Earth’s energy problem, it would make more sense to look at the helium 3 reserves on the Moon’s far side. By the time we finally go back to the Moon (which I guess won’t be until the 2040s), nuclear fusion is most likely to be commercially available.

  2. This link might answer some of your questions:

    Click to access 48039446.pdf

    However, seawater extracted uranium would only be required if there was a serious shortage of terrestrial sources of uranium. And that would probably also mean the commercialization of Fast Neutron Reactors which could produce 30 to 60 times more energy from the quantity of uranium mined or extracted.

    1. Thanks for the link, it provides some insights.

      Fast Neutron Reactors would indeed improve the efficiency of uranium consumption and with modern fourth generation reactors most of the so-called nuclear waste would disappear as well.

      However, once nuclear fusion would become a viable source of energy (somewhere in the second half of this century), the whole uranium extraction would become obsolete.

      PS. You might find this one interesting: Bio-inspired material targets oceans’ uranium stores for sustainable nuclear energy

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