From the Top: Q & A with Bernie Rosenthal

How did you get started in the software development field?

In the mid-eighties, the automation of the Integrated Circuit design process was in its infancy. As a newly graduated engineer at TRW’s LSI Products Division, I became involved in evaluating and recommending the use of software for logic and circuit design. I then became the Product Marketing engineer in charge of Electronic Design Automation for AMCC, a semiconductor start-up company where I eventually became vice president of Systems Interface Products. In the mid-nineties, I was tapped to run marketing for a division of Synopsis, now the industry’s electronic design tool leader. I later co-founded Tensilica, a Silicon Valley-based software and semiconductor intellectual property supplier. I became Reaction Design’s chief executive officer in 2005.

How did the company get started?

Reaction Design was founded in 1995 by Dr. David H. Klipstein, former senior vice president of Technology and Marketing at Biosym Technologies (now Accelrys). Initially, the company focused on contract and services work in chemical and materials processing. In 1997, the Department of Energy (DOE), which was looking to commercialize work done with government funds, selected Reaction Design to be the exclusive developer and distributor of a suite of analytical software modeling tools called Chemkin.

Chemkin was originally developed at Sandia National Laboratories and used to predict behaviors and byproducts of combustion in a number of applications. It is now widely recognized as the de facto industry standard for chemical kinetics simulation and is the core of Reaction Design’s product portfolio.

What market does your company serve?

Reaction Design develops software and chemical mechanisms to support the transportation, power and materials industries. Our customer base includes major automotive, truck, aircraft, rocket vehicles as well as power generation with gas turbines, boilers, burners and incinerators.

Petroleum and alternative fuels producers also use our software and expertise to design fuels while materials manufacturers developing electronic chips, glass coatings, and other processes involving chemical vapor deposition or atomic layer deposition use them to improve their production quality and reduce the use of expensive chemical reagents. The world’s largest gas turbine manufacturer for aircraft and power generation uses [our] software to develop new low emissions designs with reduced developmental cost and improved time-to-market.

Is most of your company's work in making petroleum fuel uses more efficient and with fewer emissions?

Combustion is a core competency and primary focus at Reaction Design. We are involved in helping our customers improve efficiency, lower emissions and increase fuel flexibility of both petroleum and alternative, carbon-neutral biofuels.

Can a company use Chemkin to determine whether a biomass-based fuel would work in a conventional vehicle engine and then help measure its emissions? Please explain. Is that what the FreedomCar project is about?

Automotive engine and fuel companies can use the combination of Chemkin, Chemkin-CFD, and the validated fuel models developed in the DOE's project to determine how well different biomass-based fuels and fuel blends will work in conventional engines or in new engine designs. The detailed chemical kinetics modeling approach allows determination through simulation of ignition timing and emissions that will result from different modes of operation with different fuels. It can also be used to determine knocking behavior, and to manage tradeoffs between these different design issues. The FreedomCar project has been focused on developing validated fuel models specifically for biodiesel fuels.

The Model Fuels Consortium is almost 4 years old. How many members does it have and what has it accomplished so far?

The Model Fuels Consortium has reached 17 members. We’ve developed master detailed chemical mechanisms and associated mechanism reduction tools to help transportation industry companies design better engines and fuels.

What are some of your company's challenges in the present economy?

The challenge for Reaction Design, and in fact for industry as a whole, is to recognize that the current situation is only a temporary one and that the important issues surrounding our carbon-based economy must still be tackled. The sooner, the better.

Who do you consider your competitors?

We have a very unique combination of individuals with specialized skills in our company and as such, we don’t find many direct competitors in the market.

Is your modeling software expensive and how long before users can expect a return on their investment?

The cost per seat of software is many orders of magnitude less than the cost of field failures or even the costs of product testing. A typical return on investment for our customers is directly proportional to how many tests we can help them eliminate with better predictability of key product characteristics over the entire range of expected operating conditions.

I have seen references to Chemkin being shelved for a few years before the company formed—was this a case of the technology being ahead of a developed market? In what ways do you still partner with Sandia National Laboratory?

The technology was developed under a DOE contract in conjunction with the development of rocket engines. In the late '80s, early '90s, it was still an expert tool, with a fairly narrow focus. In the early to mid-'90s scientists at Sandia broadened its applicability with some work in the microelectronics materials space. Since transferring the responsibility for further development of Chemkin to Reaction Design in the late '90s, collaboration with Sandia has continued on both a formal and informal basis.

Have you completed the NASA-funded project to develop jet fuel models? Do you know if NASA will make the models available to industry?

Yes, we have completed the project and as a result have some well validated alternative and conventional jet-fuel models that should be very useful in exploring fuel effects on combustion and emissions behavior. We plan to submit an article for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that describes the results in detail, pending NASA’s approval. Our expectation and understanding is that NASA intends for these models to be publicly available.

I'm interested in your University program. How is the participation in that area? Do you consider your software modeling products as an industry standard?

Reaction Design continues a strong collaboration with many academic institutions. We have over 500 academic licensees worldwide. Chemkin has become an important educational tool in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and chemistry curricula. We also provide a variety of expert training in areas of combustion.

Reaction Design is the exclusive developer and distributor of Chemkin and Chemkin-PRO software, the de facto standard for modeling and simulating gas phase and surface chemistry. It is the most widely cited and validated kinetics software today.

Where do you see your company in the next five years?

Today, Reaction Design's world-class engineers, chemists and programmers have expertise that spans multi-scale engineering from the molecule to the power plant and from the internal combustion engine cylinder to the chemical vapor deposition machine in a solar cell manufacturing plant. [The company] serves more than 400 customers in the commercial and government markets and its unique academic licensing program engages hundreds of university researchers and students each year.

Reaction Design will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to re-fashion our carbon-based economy. With our combination of unique skills, we will lead in the understanding and analysis of the combustion and materials processes upon which we all depend. Our tools and expertise will help our customers develop innovative products and approaches that address the important global challenges we face.


Reaction Design in Profile

Company statistics: Privately held, San Diego headquarters, with offices in Japan and Germany.

Size: 30 employees

Customers: Fortune 500 companies, with a focus on electronics material processing, automotive engine design and electric power generator design.

Mission: To "empower transportation manufacturers and energy companies to achieve their clean technology goals with a comprehensive and easy-to-use set of software simulation tools, chemical models and expert consulting services."

Primary products: Chemkin software enables the simulation of complex chemical reactions. It helps engineers and scientists “visualize” the effects of chemistry inherent in their products and predict important parameters like ignition delay, engine stability and pollutant emissions.

Energico is a system-design simulation tool specifically developed for gas turbine, industrial boiler and furnace manufacturers. It works with Chemkin-PRO to allow a straight-forward and efficient means of simulating the combustion process, operating parameters and pollutant byproduct emissions on the designer computer. It can save significant amounts of development and testing time when compared to traditional physical prototype testing approaches.

In the news: Dec. 2008 -- Connect, a San Diego technology accelerator, named Reaction Design's Energico, a software application for design of low-emission engines for power generators and vehicles, as one of 2008's most innovative new products.

Sept. 2009 – Reaction Design is named a finalist in the Clean Technology category of TechAmercia’s (formally AeA) 15th annual San Diego High Tech Awards.

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