Dept. of Defense, Flex Energy Partner On Waste To Energy Projects

Posted on December 2nd, 2011 by

Brad Hancock, Director of Federal Programs for FlexEnergy, discusses the approach is company is taking to help the Department of Defense generate energy through landfills.

Full Transcript:

Ben lack: Could you give us a little bit of background about FlexEnergy and the technology that you guys are bringing to market?
Brad Hancock: Sure. If you don’t mind, I’ll give a little background of myself as well, just so I get my qualifications out a little bit. I’m a director of Federal Programs for FlexEnergy, prior to the position I’m in now, I served for 21 years as a Navy Officer. Four of those years, I was working for the Secretary of Defense as the Deputy Director for Facilities Energy. During that time, I came to understand the department’s energy requirements and the challenges the department faced. When it came time for me to retire, I found out about FlexEnergy through some contacts and I realized that technology was something extremely viable and excited me a lot, so I joined on with Flex. What that means, that the Flex Powerstation is one of the few commercially available products that’s out there right now, that can help DoD and the rest of the federal government achieve a number of energy goals with one product. It can help with energy efficiency, it can help with renewable onsite generation, it can help with energy security, it can help with greenhouse gas reduction, all of which are requirements and it can do all those affordably. Everybody’s always looking for a silver bullet and recently people have been talking about silver buck shot, that you can’t necessarily fix all of your ills with one bullet but I think the Flex Powerstation is one of those items out there that can actually hit several targets with the same bullet, which is unusual. Specifically, this technology, Flex took a couple of proven technologies that have been well understood for a number of years. Gradual oxidation is one of those and the other one is micro turbines or gas turbine technology. Both of those have been in the world for a long time, they’re well understood, people know how they work. But Flex took the two technologies and combined them together in a way that nobody had ever done before. So, the result of that is a unique capability that we can turn methane gas, which has always been considered a waste stream at best and at worst is a potent contributor to global warming, into a source of renewable electricity with near zero emissions. There are some other technologies out there that can use methane and turn it into electricity but all those other technologies require a high concentration of methane, something a minimum of 40% or so. Our technology can get this down to about 1.5%. If you need 40% methane in utility landfills across the United States or the world, getting up to 40% knocks out a large percentage in the way methane production works on a landfill. The first few years you’re putting trash in there, you’re essentially getting no methane and then it wraps up, so from year 10-20, maybe 10-30, you’re getting enough methane to run the 40% machines. At some point, usually about the 20-year mark or 25-30 year mark, they close the landfill down and from that point forward it’s declining. So if it peaks at 50%, there’s only maybe 10 years or maybe 20 years max that you can get that high percentage. But the landfill is essentially going to be there forever, it’s going to be a hundred years. So, from year 30 through years 100, our machines can still produce electricity out of that where nothing else can and everything else just means you’ve got to vent that methane to the atmosphere or flare it.
Ben Lack: How did the system pique the interest of the DoD? If the landfill is really the location at which the system has to kind of fit, is it then the delivery of that power to different army bases that the DoD found so beneficial?
Brad Hancock: DoD looked at the technology and they’ve got a program that’s called the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program. Southern Research Institute actually found our technology and was proposed at the Department of Defense through the ESTCP program. DoD realized that not every installation has a landfill but a good number of them do and a large number of them have more than one landfill. So, whether the landfill is co-located right where they need the electricity or not is not really important because electricity is a grid commodity. You can have the machine sitting on a landfill that’s 2 miles or 200 miles from where you need the power, all you do is connect it to the grid and the power comes there. From energy security standpoint, as long as a landfill is on the installation or very close to the installation, it provides a lot of security. They don’t have to worry about the power being transferred 100 miles, 200 miles, or 1000 miles to get to them. The fact that it operates on such a low volume of methane made it very attractive for all the smaller landfills out there and all the old closed landfills that are venting off or flaring off that methane.
Ben Lack: So, is the value that it’s a domestic solution to this kind of clean energy supply problem or is the idea also that they could be out on the battlefield and leveraging this technology as well?
Brad Hancock: Right now, it’s not an operational battlefield type opportunity. It might be in the future. They’re a little bit large for that right now and in most cases you’re not going to have the landfill on an operational capacity that will produce the methane. If you have what DoD refers to as enduring operating bases, we may have a few of those in Iraq for a number of years where you still got 20 or 100 DoD employees that are working, there might be a potential that you can have some landfill gas to operate one of these. You can operate them off natural gas as well, that could provide some security in locations like maybe state department embassies or something like that. They would be able to produce their own electricity; they still have to have some sort of fuel, methane or natural gas coming in to do that.
Ben Lack: Tell me a little bit about this relationship with Fort Benning and why that’s such a big part of the growth for the business and what was the value that Fort Benning saw in the technology?
Brad Hancock: Well, the value that Fort Benning saw was that they had a closed landfill that they were flaring methane off of, they had to flare the methane because they had buildings in the vicinity that if they didn’t collect it and flare it off, then the buildings would end up collecting all the methane and they would become uninhabitable so they already had a collection system in place and were flaring it off. We were able to bring one of these machines and just set it down and connect it to the collection system that they already connected and we were able to turn off their flare and instead turn that wasted methane into electricity for them. We were able to build it at a cost that’s relatively close to what they’re already paying for electricity so it’s not costing them anything additional to be able to do it. You see something out there that’s new technology, looks good, you think it’s going to expand; everybody kind of wants to be the front runner on that. That’s what Fort Benning was able to do. They we able to get the first of these machines to be installed. Under the program, research is being done under the Southern Research Institute and it’s coming along; they’re verifying all the data, all the emissions data, all the input data, how well it operates. So, at the end of the year, after we’ve run this, Fort Benning will own it, they will be able to keep it and continue to operate it, continue to get the power off of it. Southern Research Institute will have the verified data that they did independently that we will be able to use and the Department of Defense will be able to use to say this is a viable product that did work, here’s how it worked and here’s where it could work across the board. Fort Benning, for instance, actually has several other landfills. The one that they installed at only produced enough methane for one of these machines. We’re using all the methane they produce but they have other landfills we might be able to install one or even multiple of these machines at the other landfills to duplicate that project. So, they are really looking at it as an initial user of the technology and hoping that once it’s proven that they are going to be able to use even more of it.
Ben Lack: Are there any learnings that the company has acquired through this process of getting the technology onto the base so that the next time a customer signs up, that process is even more efficient and more effective?
Brad Hancock: Sure, you always learn those kinds of things when you’re doing a first test or test to file a project for one of these. Outside, the installation that went on at Fort Benning was fairly smooth. We did learn as we were putting a team together, we changed our design slightly to make it a little bit easier to put together and a little bit easier to take apart if that becomes necessary. Just running it off the methane out in the environment has taught us a few things that we can change of our design and we do those as we’re moving along. We have figured out that it’s very important that the collection systems are maintained properly. The collection system is the fuel supply for the equipment, so if it doesn’t operate properly, it’s hard for the equipment to operate properly. So, as we go forward and we talk to additional clients, be they DoD or other clients, that’s one of the things we stress is that if it’s your collection system and in most cases it’s going to be the client’s collection system. That is a key component to being able to produce electricity, so it has to be maintained properly.
Ben Lack: What’s going to be the one challenge or obstacle that’s going to keep your company from having a type of success that you think you’re going to achieve?
Brad Hancock: We don’t really see that obstacle to be honest with you. Having this machine in at Fort Benning and having the third party verified, we know that we’re getting the good data out of it and we don’t really see a major obstacle to the second, third, fourth or fifth one of these going in. It’s the obstacle of just the time to get the verified data.
Ben Lack: Are there certain types of bases that obviously you’re going to have more common reasons for landfills or you’re also seeing that there are other applications that the technology might be able to be used for?
Brad Hancock: There are absolutely other applications. There are other landfills on a lot of DoD and other installations. Beyond landfills we also can also use methane from waste water treatment digesters. There are some digesters for other food processing applications that we can use. In certain cases, there are oil and gas fields on or under installations, for instance, Barksville Air Force Base has oil leases with private parties are coming in and pumping oil up from under the installation and methane is a by-product of that pumping. We can potentially use that methane by-product. Additionally, I think Fort Knox has a shale bed underneath the installation that they have just begun to tap into and they’re piping that gas off the installation. It’s essentially natural gas, is what it is, from the formation, so we can potentially use that natural gas on the installation to provide them their own secure energy source.
Ben Lack: Brad, why are you doing what you’re doing and why have you chosen to spend your time in this industry?
Brad Hancock: I’m doing what I’m doing because I became passionate about energy during my time at the Department of Defense and I understand the end requirements and the challenges that the department faces for meeting its energy goals. I think it’s important for the nation, for national security and for our own defense to have some secure domestic sources of energy. One of the things most people talk about when they talk about that is oil for running ships and airplanes, that kind of stuff. Most of our electricity doesn’t come from that oil but the fragility of the grid in a lack of renewable power that is prime power to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When I looked at this Flex technology, the Flex Powerstation, I said, “That is that prime power.” It’s renewable energy, it does provide security. I can be on the forefront of getting it out to the Department of Defense so it was a very attractive venture for me to come in and spread this technology around and make it useful for the nation.
Ben Lack: Before we let you go, is there anything else that you’d like to share with our audience?
Brad Hancock: Flex is an American company, we’re providing American jobs, we’ve increased the workforce in America by about a hundred people over the last year. We anticipate that continuing to increase over time. I’m proud to be part of FlexEnergy as we help the Department of Defense achieve its mission, offering energy security at an affordable price while we’re also helping to protect the environment.



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