Turning Seawater Into Fuel?

Google X’s Discontinued Project: Project Foghorn

Saras Agrawal
3 min readApr 12, 2021

29% of all green house gas emissions are byproducts of vehicle transportation. In the United States, these vehicles were the cause of 75% of all carbon monoxide pollution. And, 97% of all this pollution was due to the use of fossil fuels.

In 2013, a team at X (then Google X), also became interested in this problem. Early in the summer, they began to research into the problem, and stumbled onto a paper by Dr. Matthew Eisaman, on his radical idea of turning seawater into carbon-neutral liquid fuel, something that could replace gasoline and diesel. The team set their eyes on the question: could they bring this solution to the rest of the world within the next 10 years, at a reasonable cost?

How the Idea Worked

The system basically worked like this:

Step 1: Sea water collects carbon naturally, storing it within the ocean

Step 2: Carbon dioxide is extracted from seawater and hydrogen is produced

Step 3: Inside a catalytic reactor, hydrogen is reacted with carbon dioxide to make fuel, and

Step 4: Vehicles are powered by sea fuel. Carbon dioxide from vehicles is re-absorbed into the sea to be used again.

The original explanation: https://x.company/projects/foghorn/


The team, early in 2014, would develop methanol, their fuel source. It meant that this seawater idea was possible, but now their goal was to reach a price similar, to that of the average price of gasoline.

The End

After 2 years of work, in 2016, project Foghorn was discontinued. The team realized that, creating fuel wasn’t going to be a challenge, it was the cost of said fuel. Pumping large amounts of water, seemed to almost equal out to the cost of oil pumps, but it didn’t include the manufacturing costs, and distribution. In the end, the downfall of Foghorn, wasn’t the technology or idea, but instead, the cost and time, something X didn’t really have.


Though Project Foghorn eventually ‘failed’ it taught us something about the technology industry, and renewable fuel sources. In the end, the project was a ahead of it’s time. As technology begins to ramp up, maybe one day, the pumping of seawater and manufacturing will be lowered, and project Foghorn could finally be a viable way to run our cars. In all, something to takeaway from the project: While hard work, capital, and innovation make great ideas, sometimes the world just isn’t ready for a great idea.

Before you go

I’m Saras, an aspiring innovator, who loves to explore and learn. Student at The Knowledge Society. Science & Tech & Ethics & Philosophy. I also post semi-weekly. Ish. Consider subscribing?



Saras Agrawal

Currently working in the BCI startup space. Learning, Exploring, Creating, Teaching.