CO2 Emissions Lockheed Martin partners in waste to energy system.

Published on December 5th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


When Lockheed Martin Goes Green, It’s Game Over For Fossil Fuels

December 5th, 2013 by  

When a major defense contractor like Lockheed Martin lays down some heavy stakes in the green energy field, you know it’s only a matter of time before fossil fuels lose their headlock on the global energy market.  Lockheed recently teamed up with the green energy innovator Concord Blue Energy to take that company’s waste-to-energy technology global, and here’s where it gets really interesting: Concord Blue has just announced a new agreement to integrate its technology with the firm LanzaTech, which specializes in capturing carbon-loaded waste gas from industrial operations and converting it to high-value products.

Concord Blue Meets LanzaTech

Concord Blue Energy is a new name to CleanTechnica, so before we get to the Lockheed Martin stuff here’s a quick recap from Concord’s website:

Concord Blue has developed a closed-loop, commercially proven, non-incineration process that recycles nearly any form of waste, including landfill waste and sewage sludge, into energy at virtually any scale.

By non-incineration they mean gasification, which leads us straight to the mashup between Concord Blue and LanzaTech. In 2009 we noticed that LanzaTech had developed a microbe that munches down on the carbon monoxide from steel mill waste gas, and converts it to pure ethanol.

Lockheed Martin partners in waste to energy system.

Lockheed Martin F-22A fighter by Rob Shenk.

That seemed cool enough but the company one-upped itself just one year later, by tweaking the system to produce 2,3 Butanediol from waste gas. This substance is a precursor to other chemicals that are building blocks for manufacturing plastics, textiles, rubber and any number of other synthetic materials.

Fast forward to October 2013, and we find that LanzaTech has received a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy’s high tech ARPA-E program, with the aim of integrating its technology beyond industrial mills and into other carbon-emitting sites.

LanzaTech has wasted no time putting the grant into action, as the new agreement with Concord Blue demonstrates. It covers LanzaTech’s Freedom Pines facility in Soperton, Georgia (for all you Walking Dead fans out there, that’s only a couple of hours drive from Atlanta).

The project involves the integration of a Concord Blue “Reformer” waste-to-energy unit at Freedom Pines, which will pull in waste biomass from the region’s forestry industries. LanzaTech’s part will be to convert waste gas from the process into biofuels and chemicals.

The goal is to steer waste away from landfills and old school incinerators, and bump the waste recovery chain into generating higher-value byproducts, which will make the whole operation a commercially viable, attractive investment for companies around the world.

One thing to note about Concord Blue is the scalability of its system, which raises the potential for small companies to take advantage of the resource recovery opportunity, in addition to major companies.

Lockheed Martin And Green Energy

Now let’s take a look at how Lockheed Martin plays into all this. This past October, Lockheed announced an agreement with Concord Blue to take the company’s gasification process into global markets. Basically, the agreement will leverage Lockheed’s global experience in engineering, program management, procurement, manufacturing and integration.

The new agreement supports Lockheed’s rebranding of itself as a climate-aware company, expressed thusly:

Today, Lockheed Martin is partnering with customers and investing talent in clean, secure, and smart energy – enabling global security, a strong economic future, and climate protection for future generations.

We’ve spent plenty of time on these pages detailing the US Defense Department’s urgent climate change messaging, so it should be no surprise that its major contractors are at least paying lip service to the notion — I know, still strange in some quarters — that human activity has tipped the planet’s delicate carbon balance in a dangerous direction.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that Lockheed’s other recent ventures into clean energy include an ocean thermal energy conversion project in partnership with the US Navy as well as a wave power project in Australia that hooks it up with another clean tech innovator that has Defense ties, US-based Ocean Power Technologies.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Green Globe

    Interesting article. This waste-to-energy technology will be big in the future. Hoping for Concord Blue to go public soon. Cheers.

  • boy paltek

    graphene solar cells and batteries should be great for solar aircraft applications.

    • Peter Gray

      Sure, except that no practical aircraft has anywhere close to enough surface area, even at 100% PV efficiency, to solar-power itself. And real batteries don’t have nearly the energy density of liquid organic fuels. Other than that, great idea.

      • Bob_Wallace

        It’s a goal we can build toward. Stronger, lighter materials are one part of the puzzle.

        If we get there one step along the way may be planes that take off using liquid fuel but cruise above the clouds using solar.

        • Peter Gray

          There are physical limits to how strong and light materials can be, and even if they become weightless, the vast bulk of aviation is for passengers and cargo, which show few signs of getting a lot lighter. An empty 787 is about 48% of max gross weight.
          (Very generous) reality check: let’s replace the 787, among the most efficient airliners to date, with a similar solar aircraft built entirely of graphene and weightless wunderfiber. So it only needs to haul its 110 metric tonne payload (including what used to be fuel). Expand its planform area from the current 650 m^2 (at most, based on 2x wing area) to 800, and cover every cm^2 with 100%-efficient PV (not physically possible, but what the hell?). Increase its L/D from the current max of 17, to 25 (very optimistic), while cutting its cruise speed from 913 km/hr to 800 (~500 mph).
          Cruise power req’d. = 12.7 MW (real 787 needs ~45 MW)
          PV power generated = 0.8 MW (short by a factor of 16)
          Of course, if the PV “only” captures 25%, power required over generated goes to 64x (!!). And if aux jet engines, airframe, electric motors, PV, etc. weigh _anything_, the shortfall can only get worse. See the problem?
          This doesn’t account for ~20% higher solar flux at altitude (which might increase gen’d power from 1.6% to 1.9% of req’d.), but it assumes always flying near the solar ecliptic at noon – somewhat limiting the craft’s utility.

          Re multiple power systems, that’s a particularly bad idea in an aircraft, and it was one of many fatal flaws in the boondoggle known as the Aerospace Plane (Reagan’s “Orient Express”). In case you’re interested, see my Washington Monthly article blasting that project:

  • boy paltek

    great for airlifting relief goods and equipment to inaccessible disaster stricken areas like tacloban city. fossil fuel burns and is dangerous to the air crew and is disastrous to the environment this has long been ignored now is the time to change.

  • Bob_Wallace

    So this would pull the “compostables” out of the waste stream and allow for plastic and metals extraction from the leftovers?

    Could be the route to 0% landfill waste streams and affordable 100% recycling. Next step would probably be to make sure 100% of all plastic is recyclable/reusable.

    • Peter Gray

      I’m with you on this to a great extent rhetorically, but let’s not forget that for any human endeavor involving reality, 0% and 100% never (ever!) make sense. The cost of the last steps toward perfection always tend toward infinity, not toward “affordable,” and resources we put into pursuing a mirage could be better spent elsewhere. Enviros have made this error countless times and rarely seem to learn from it.

      In case this seems like a nit-picky point, the problem comes when we suggest a perfect result, and inevitably fail to produce it. Then we’re wide open to disingenuous criticism that since the technology didn’t perform as advertised, the whole idea was a scam and should be scrapped. Birds and turbines, hybrid cars and batteries – fill in your own example from a huge collection. We know the climate deniers and the fossil fuel industry (but I repeat myself) are no more likely to play fair than were their close cousins the tobacco companies and Ethyl Corp. Why hand them free ammunition?

      If instead we try from the start to be realistic, and keep in mind the principle of under-promising and over-delivering, we’d be in a position later to say “Yeah, PV plants pollute some rivers and aquifers in China. Wind farms kill fewer birds than before, but not zero. Even after the best recycling, some toxic waste goes to landfills. So what? We said so years ago. The point remains that all these things are 10 times better than the alternatives.”

      • Bob_Wallace

        Whenever I use “100%” please read it as 99.99…%

        Whenever I use “0%” please read it as 0.00…x%

        • Peter Gray

          Somehow my earlier reply got deleted; I’ll try to be briefer.
          Not to be argumentative, Bob, but I still don’t buy it. Very few bulk processes come close to that kind of perfection, esp. with highly heterogeneous feedstocks. 90%, maybe 95% on occasion, but often no better than 80% makes sense to achieve.

          An 80% cut in pollution or waste is a lot better than nothing. Spending a lot more for slightly better numbers means spending less on something else with a higher benefit/cost ratio.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I checked both the Deleted and Spam folders. There are no comments from you in either.

          • Peter Gray

            Okay, probably my error, though I could swear I hit “post.” Must not have, because the comment function here seems very reliable. Not much basis to compare, since I hardly comment anywhere else, but it works well. (wish the search function worked as well.)

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, Disqus gets unreliable once the comment count gets above 100.

            Sometimes the comments will turn up days later. And, I assume, sometimes not at all.

          • Peter Gray

            Ah. Thx for the tip. My comments are hardly made of gold anyway, as you’re well aware, so no huge loss. Come to think of it, Disqus has some other weaknesses, like lack of text formatting, and line breaks that don’t show up until you edit and add them again. Still better than the non-functional search engine, but I’ve given up complaining about that, so I’d never mention it!

      • Green Globe

        Good points regarding the criticism from the other side. They enjoy putting renewable energy and clean tech under the microscope every chance they get as they are protecting their turf from competition. The green industry needs to stop shooting itself in the foot.

        • Peter Gray

          Thanks for getting my point! Criticism is all part of the game, and healthy if it’s done with a decent level of intellectual honesty. Everybody is tempted to exaggerate, but when you lose credibility it’s damn hard to get it back.

          If greens don’t want to learn from their own experience, why not take a lesson from nuclear power? Which has yet to live down its too-cheap-to-meter and reactor-in-every-basement promises of the 1950s, combined with ignoring the issue of waste, followed by downplaying Chernobyl, and topped off with the gratuitous self-inflicted disaster at Fukushima. Even if the industry magically solves all its techno problems and finds a way to beat renewables on cost, who in their right mind imagines it overcoming all that history?

    • wideEyedPupil

      Recycling today means down cycling. The products of recycling are lesser grade materials than the feed stocks materials. That goes for papers, plastics and even some metals.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Even if they are lower quality than the original feedstock that does not mean that they aren’t usable, thus avoiding a trip to the landfill.

        We don’t bury old cars. We turn them into guard rails and rebar

        • wideEyedPupil

          I think that puts us in agreement, Bob. Point is many people think recycling is cradle to cradle resource use. It’s not its cradle to grave but less bad than landfill. Old growth forests are still being cut down in my country (Australia) to make toilet paper and copier paper. Recycling is not undercutting that market in the slightest. As long as old growth forests are given away to lo pulping operations recycling paper is not anything even approaching a silver bullet.

          (They don’t even use this extremely strong high grade timber (F22+) for construction!

  • agelbert

    Great news! [img][/img]

  • J_JamesM

    Lockheed Martin is also expanding into the green transport business. They’re building an airship, the LMZ1M, that can haul cargo over long distances for 1/10 the cost and fuel consumption of a helicopter.

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