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Turbines from Outer Space Lift Lockheed into New Energy Frontier

Oct. 26, 2016
Lockheed Martin’s new mission: Apply more than a century of know-how to renewable-energy technologies.

Lockheed Martin Corp. (IW 500/25) says engineering tidal turbines to withstand the relentless pounding of the Earth’s oceans isn’t much different than the machines it makes to survive the extreme conditions of outer space.

The world’s largest defense contractor is trying to redirect more of its high-tech military knowledge to civilian markets. Lockheed Martin’s new mission: Apply more than a century of know-how to renewable-energy technologies that may mitigate the international security challenges of climate change.

“Tidal has a need for advanced manufacturing, engineering and systems integration,” Lockheed Martin Energy Vice President Frank Armijo said in an interview at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in London. “We use some of the same technology that we use for our space programs to help protect the systems within the turbine.”

Lockheed Martin’s pivot toward international renewable energy markets reflects broader trends in the military. After Google, the U.S. Department of Defense has become the country’s second-largest buyer of emissions-free electricity, in a bid to boost energy security. At the same time, warnings by military leaders have grown louder over the potential conflicts that will be ignited by runaway global warming.

Tidal Farm in Scotland

“Lockheed Martin has been involved in energy technologies for decades, meeting the needs of a lot of our federal and defense customers,” Armijo said. “Out of that, we have some unique technologies that we think can be offered across the energy marketplace.”

Lockheed Martin Energy, a unit of Lockheed’s missile and fire-control business based in Prairie, Texas, is currently working on a tidal farm in Scotland with Atlantis Resources Ltd.

“By focusing on lithium-ion in the near term while continuing to develop its flow battery technology, they can gain experience that could be used to enhance this product in the run up to its commercial release,” Goldie-Scot said. “Flow batteries are really innovative but it’s too soon to say if they work or not.”

Lockheed’s decision to go global is already yielding some returns. It announced its first U.K. power project on Oct. 11, a $135-million waste-to-energy plant in Wales being built with CoGen Ltd. that will generate 15 megawatts. It has plans to install more across the country.

By Anna Hirtenstein

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