Defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin will build tanks for liquefied natural gas to power ocean-going vessels at an idled NASA facility that previously made fuel tanks for the Space Shuttle, the company announced Tuesday.
The maritime industry is beginning to design vessels that can be powered by natural gas to save fuel costs and air-fouling emissions. Low-grade bunker oil burned today emits large amounts of particulate matter, sulfur and nitrogen oxide. Natural gas produces fewer of these gases as well as greenhouse gases.
Last year, TOTE Inc., the parent company of Sea Star Line and Totem Ocean Trailer Express, said it will build two containerships for the Puerto Rico trade that will be powered by LNG and has options to build three more. It also plans to convert two roll-on/roll-off vessels used in its Alaska service to hybrid gas-diesel power.
Also, some classification societies have given preliminary approval to shipyards to build large containerships fueled by LNG and carriers on the Great Lakes are considering repowering some older vessels with LNG.
NASA is trying to convert its Michoud assembly plant near New Orleans into a multi-use manufacturing facility for commercial applications after the federal government canceled the Space Shuttle and Constellation programs.
The United States is experiencing a natural gas production boom aided by the advent of new technologies and techniques that allow previously inaccessible stores trapped in shale rock formations to be retrieved. Lockheed Martin's Information Systems & Global Solutions-Defense unit eventually plans to branch out into the manufacture of LNG tanks for commercial trucks and freight railroads.
The trucking industry has been testing LNG vehicles in limited quantities for several years, intrigued by the pollution benefits and lower cost compared to diesel fuel. Many challenges still remain before LNG becomes a mainstream fuel for the industry, not least of which is building a network of fueling stations to support the movement of trucks around the country. Clean Energy Fuels Corp. is the largest provider of natural gas fuel for vehicles in North America. Its plans to build fuel stations on key freight corridors have been matched by Shell Oil Products U.S., which is adding natural gas pumps at a chain of truck stops.
The head of BNSF Railway recently said the company planned to test LNG in a small number of locomotives.
Lockheed Martin's new LNG project is expected to create 166 jobs in Louisiana. The state's economic development agency offered Lockheed Martin payroll tax credits and workforce training assistance to help land the project.
The first phase of the project is expected to begin with the installation of equipment in December, the company said. - Eric Kulisch