World's biggest defence company builds plant to make energy from landfill

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On 20 September 2016, Lockheed Martin executives officially open the new waste-to-energy plant at the firm's Owego, New York, aircraft manufacturing facility. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

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Lockheed Martin is making progress with its plan to be a global player in the clean energy market. Last month, executives at Lockheed Martin's Owego, New York plant cut the ribbon on a new self-sustaining bioenergy system that is helping power the facility, converting 3,560 tons of waste per year into electricity.

The waste-to-energy plant at Lockheed Martin, Owego, New York.(Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin spokesperson Michael Friedman told New Atlas the company hopes that in time the system will provide a clean, scalable answer to the world's landfill and clean electricity problems.

While converting bio-waste into energy is not new, incineration is still the most popular way of achieving this. The problem is, using fire as a step in the process creates serious emission problems, especially in countries that are already struggling with air pollution.

The bioenergy technology used by Lockheed Martin was developed in partnership with the German-Indian waste-to energy manufacturers, Concord Blue. The system uses a process Concord Blue calls Advanced Gasification, which is oxygen-free and flame-free. Because there's no incineration, no harmful byproducts are produced, emissions are limited and landfill waste is greatly reduced.

Friedman told New Atlas that with more than seven billion people on the planet, Lockheed Martin sees sustainable waste disposal and a need for energy that is both secure and clean as vital to our future quality of life. "Landfills and fossil fuels no longer meet the pressing needs of our time," he says.

The Owego plant will initially be powered by wood scraps from the timber industry, but if all goes to plan, the system will eventually demonstrate that it can successfully convert a wide variety of waste – such as municipal solid waste, commercial and industrial waste.

Friedman says the technology is affordable, scalable and easy to implement. "We envision any school, hospital, manufacturing center, industrial park, city, or government with a need to reduce waste to landfill and create clean energy as perfect candidates to implement our system."

According to Concord Blue, the advanced gasification process converts waste into electricity through a closed-loop system that requires no additional power once conversion begins. It involves four key steps:

1. Waste Collection: While the Owego facility is currently collecting and using wood-waste as input, in time it will transition to using municipal, commercial or industrial waste to create power.

2. Waste Conditioning: Metal, glass and other materials are removed, and the waste is dried to a moisture content of 20 percent or lower.

3. Gas Creation: The pre-conditioned waste travels into a waste-storage vessel where oxygen is removed, allowing the waste to be heated without combustion, and without creating harmful oxidized pollutants such as dioxin. Ceramic heat carrier balls are heated to high temperatures by the system, and are dropped in with the organic waste to achieve a constant and equal heat transfer to the waste material. In a two-stage thermolysis process, the waste is heated to over 400 degrees Celsius, and the solid waste (due to the lack of oxygen) is converted directly into gas. The gas then travels to a reforming vessel where it is cleaned and transformed into syn-gas – a fuel gas mixture that consists mainly of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and some carbon dioxide.

4. Power Generation: The gas is then used to fuel a combustion engine that produces electricity. The gas can also be used to produce hydrogen and biofuels.

Building on the experience gained in Owego, Lockheed Martin and Concord Blue are also constructing a bioenergy plant in Herten, Germany. The planned facility will convert 50,000 tons of forestry waste per year into 5 megawatts of energy – enough to power about 5,000 homes and businesses.

"This new bioenergy technology can change the way our world addresses clean energy and waste management challenges," says Frank Armijo, vice president of Lockheed Martin Energy. "At our bioenergy facility in Owego, we're able to reduce our own energy costs while also demonstrating the groundbreaking capability of our technology to potential users."

Here's Lockheed Martin's promo video:

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