Friday, July 10, 2009

R&D firm working on propulsion system

By Kathryn Reed

When Greg Stevenson moved to Lake Tahoe full time in 1990 he heard stories about automobile emissions contributing to the Lake’s declining clarity. Then he asked what watercraft does to the purity of the water.
“That stirred a hornet’s nest,” said Stevenson, who is president of GSE Inc., an experimental research and development firm based in South Lake Tahoe. “I made a White Paper describing all the propulsion systems on Lake Tahoe and identified the rate for emissions per rate of horsepower. Jet Skis were way off the charts.”
This led to the ban of two-stroke motors on the Lake. However, today two-strokes are cleaner than four-strokes.
What irks Stevenson to this day is that everything else in the paper was ignored. His research shows wooden boats are horrible when it comes to emissions.
“We keep having endless studies from UC Davies about water quality, but almost no proactive solutions,” Stevenson said.
He’d like to see regional universities have a marine craft competition to see who can design the most efficient, low emission vehicle.
“A lot of practical things can happen. I think the consumer is willing to go along if you give them options for things with better performance,” Stevenson said.

Overcoming obstacles

Stevenson has been operating out of the 15,500-square-foot former Barkley Meats building on Industrial Avenue since August 2007 after moving from Incline.
The mechanical engineer who grew-up in the aerospace business formed GSE in 1983, incorporating in 1994 to focus on heavy fuel engine development for the military.
He’s back butting heads with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency – this time over the pitch on the roof of his building. The agency and city are requiring he have a multi-pitch roof, which he says has tripled the cost.
With his attention and financial resources focused on the roof, work has slowed down. Disgust fills his voice.
“We were going great guns last fall,” Stevenson said.
Between TRPA and the Obama administration, his workload has diminished.
Much of the work he and five employees did was R&D stuff for the Defense Department. GSE develops propulsion systems for unmanned aircraft.
Even though a slew of government programs have been approved, they are in their infancy and bids are not being sought.
“The new administration is putting funding into renewable energy instead of defense oriented. It is a significant change in the baseline of what we were doing,” Stevenson said. “But it’s all in the right direction in extracting the utmost energy.”
With education outreach likely to be a significant component of future state and federal contracts, GSE is positioning itself to be a player by talking to area schools now.

Nuts and bolts

The focus of GSE is research and development on advanced propulsion systems.
“There are an awful lot of companies in the Bay Area inventing different means of renewable fuels, but almost no one in the commercial side optimizing the combustion process,” Stevenson said.
He said the need now is to get the most efficiency out of renewables. His proposal before the California Energy Commission would provide clean energy off the grid.
“Ultimately, every time you have a controlled burn you could make it into energy and not have it go into the atmosphere,” Stevenson explained. Cogeneration is a big part of what his company is focusing on.
With projections being that in the next 10 to 20 years California will use twice as much electricity, the race is on to find a new way to provide that energy. Combined heating and power (CHP) technology is one way. Biomass is an example of this. Instead of controlled burns, incinerate trees by controlled combustion, extract the energy and have smokeless emissions.
When it comes to automobiles, Stevenson said the quandary is emissions standards in California, which are the strictest in the nation, are in conflict with the most efficient engines being developed in Europe.
Another issue is that when scientists do figure out how to extract energy from a renewable fuel seldom has an engine been designed that can use the energy.
Stevenson thinks some of the military applications he has been around could make life on the frontline for firefighters better. He said the basic diesel equipment firefighters use is 6 to 8 pounds per horsepower, while the military shoots for 1 pound.
This means a 40 horsepower water pump could weigh 300 pounds. If it were converted to military standards, a mobile 40 to 50 pound device could be created – allowing firefighters to be deployed with water on their backs to fight fires.
“We have made breakthroughs on the military side that should show up eventually in the commercial sector,” Stevenson said. “I always had in mind that a lot more efficiency could come out of today’s propulsion systems.”
Stevenson gives specifics about the equipment in his facility and their applications on his website,

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