The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest buyer of fuel in the world so it shouldn’t come as a great shock that protecting our oil and gas supplies is something one would rather come to expect from a military contractor. However, what gets me excited about defense bellwether Lockheed Martin (LM) is the way its advancing the use of rare earth materials such as graphene to radically improve the desalination of ocean water. This has me thinking the company may unknowingly be on a collision course to address the Holy Grail for the natural gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” community – namely how to filter and clean all that flowback water from this highly controversial drilling technique.
I first mentioned my enthusiasm for graphene in a Dec. 2012 Blue Phoenix Next Gen Energy blog article titled “The future of energy may literally be in your child’s hand”. Since that article I’ve grown increasingly positive on the potential applications for graphene. Therefore I’m very optimistic about LM’s efforts to use the material for filtration capabilities, possibly even for fracking. Sure LM is involved in many next generation energy areas such as biofuels, solar, OTEC, wave, energy storage, nuclear, smart grid and fuel cell technology, but the potential to alleviate a huge public concern for fracking could be game-changing for a country looking to become truly energy independent. I did reach out to LM for comment regarding the viability of this technology to be used for fracking but the company refused my request for interview.
LM’s patented Perforene membrane, which uses one atom thick graphene to remove sodium, chlorine and other ions from sea water, is not commercial yet. Despite its unavailability at this point, my mind is racing at the thought of being able to capture ormaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, methanol, ammonium persulfate, sodium chloride, borate salts, isopropanol, ethylene and many other chemicals including benzene and methane, a large component of natural gas itself as well as the 2nd most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. from manmade behavior according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Granted fracking fluid is roughly 99.51% water and sand, but the .49% additives are the ones environmentalists are shouting from the rooftops to control since those against fracking believe pose a threat to both water and air quality once flowback water comes back up the well and seeps into water supplies near active wells.
LM’s recent press release says, “The Perforene membrane can be tailored to other applications, including capturing minerals, through the selection of the size of hole placed in the material to filter or capture a specific size particle of interest.” That comment has solidified my own belief that the graphene/perforene technology can more cheaply separate methane, which is ~21 times more possible than CO2 to cause global warming, from natural gas, landfills and wastewater treatments. Keep in mind methane can be used for heat and electricity purposes. This means that LM’s new water filtration technology can potentially prove game-changing for the future of the natural gas industry, even if it wasn’t originally meant to in the first place.