Lockheed Martin Snaps Up Energy Storage Firm

Lockheed Martin could take energy storage development to another level by acquiring Sun Catalytix.
Published: Fri 29 Aug 2014

Global security, aerospace, and information technology company, Lockheed Martin, has snapped up energy storage researcher and developer, Sun Catalytix.Lockheed Martin will acquire the firm’s patents as well as its new business plan to produce flow batteries for grid-scale and commercial-scale energy storage. The acquisition amount has yet to be revealed.

Sun Catalytix will be renamed as Lockheed Martin Advanced Energy Storage and will report to the Missiles and Fire Control group within the defense contractor.

Acquisition in line with energy plans

This acquisition complements Lockheed Martin's capabilities in energy management and efficiency. The firm has a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and is working towards a number of goals which are to be met by 2020:

  • Reduce carbon emissions by 35%

  • Reduce facility energy use by 25%

  • Reduce waste to landfill by 35%

These goals have been set to strengthen the firm’s industry leadership in the sustainability arena and align with the goals of US federal agencies to meet energy, water and waste reduction targets by 2020.

The majority of Lockheed Martin's business is with the US Department of Defense and the US federal government agencies. The firm is the largest provider of IT services, systems integration, and training to the U.S. Government.

Creating a residential off-grid solar system

Sun Catalytix, founded by Professor Daniel Nocera, was chasing one of the biggest prizes in the energy industry. Nocera was hoping to commercialize a process which could economically and efficiently convert water into hydrogen fuel with sunlight and chemical catalysts. The inexpensive catalysts would break apart water molecules efficiently, a form of artificial photosynthesis. The hydrogen gas would be stored in a tank and could then be used to create electricity via a fuel cell even when the sun isn’t shining. The system could potentially synthesize clean water from the gases.

Nocera viewed this system as the potential enabler of the hydrogen economy, since transportation of hydrogen would no longer be an issue, and gas production would now be distributed residence by residence. The basic idea was that solar panels could produce hydrogen for homeowners during the day so they could rely on clean energy at night. This would, in essence, create a residential off-grid solar system.

India’s Tata conglomerate, among others, showed a great deal of interest in the idea.

After four years of hydrogen storage research, it switched to flow batteries, which don’t have anything to do with the original technology. Flow batteries have made some recent progress in commercialization, but developing new energy storage technology remains a time- and capital-intensive effort.

Perhaps artificial photosynthesis was too big of an idea for a start-up but there is a chance that Lockheed Martin will take the concept successfully to market.