Hampton's Brayton Energy hailed as example of N.H. clean energy economy

By Geoff Cunningham Jr.

Foster's Daily Democrat, July 2, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Foster's Daily Democrat and Fosters.com.]
Cunningham/Democrat photo Engineer Eric Vollnogle of Hampton-based Brayton Energy explains the workings of a turbine that will create energy by focusing solar rays reflected off parabolic mirrors.

HAMPTON — A recent report suggests New Hampshire has been slow in the creation of "clean energy" businesses, but one local company has been hailed as a shining example of the possibilities for the industry here.

The Pew Charitable Trust recently released a "Clean Energy Economy" report that cites Hampton's Brayton Energy as a top firm that's ventured into a rapidly growing industry as it seeks to invent new ways of harnessing renewable and low-emissions energy.

Jan Pendlebury, the New Hampshire representative of Pew's Environmental Group, said her organization's new Clean Energy report is the first that provides a clear "data-driven" definition of the clean energy economy and a hard count of all the associated jobs, companies and venture capital investments across the 50 states.

Pew's report shows that between 1998 and 2007, jobs in New Hampshire's clean energy economy grew at a rate of two percent, while overall jobs in the state grew by 6.8 percent. This is compared to a national trend that had the clean energy economy growing at a rate of 9.1 percent.

In 2007 there were more than 4,000 jobs in New Hampshire's clean energy economy, according to the Pew report.

"Jobs in New Hampshire's clean energy sector grew between 1998 and 2007, even though they lagged behind the state's overall job growth," Pendlebury said.

While she acknowledged New Hampshire's slower growth, she said a new climate action plan has helped attract almost $67 million in venture capital investments into the state for clean energy technologies in the past three years.

"We are going in the right direction," she said.

New Hampshire is poised for more rapid growth in the clean energy economy, which is generally defined as an economy that creates jobs, businesses and investments focused on the production of products and energy that reduce pollution and conserve natural resources, she said.

Among the businesses highlighted in the Pew report was Brayton energy — a company that founder Jim Kesseli said started as an idea at his "kitchen table" in 2004.

Kesseli is an engineer who built his business up from a small operation to a high-tech research and development engineering company dedicated to advancing alternative energy. The business began with a handful of employees and now has 28.

Brayton's current projects include a Department of Energy-sponsored solar power electric conversion system, a new 1 megawatt bio-fueled gas turbine, a high-efficiency gas turbine engine suitable for truck and stationary power applications and key components for a helium-cooled gas turbine system for the next generation of nuclear power.

Key investors range from the California Department of Energy and Wal-Mart to Google.

The company operates out of building directly off the salt marshes on Route 1 in Hampton. Outside, cranes and other coastal birds can be seen in the marsh as employees work to create clean energy solutions. Inside, the office is full of turbine parts and experimental components.

Among Brayton's bigger projects is a "Solar CAT" power converter unit that will use parabolic mirrors to concentrate light on collection units so the extreme heat turns turbines. They say the units — still in development — should be able to produce power at a better rate than more traditional solar methods using flat panels.

Brayton also is concentrating on the development of a low-emissions hybrid gas turbine engine that could be used to power stationary power plants or developed for use in tractor trailers.

They say the goal is to produce an engine that's 15 percent more efficient than the highest-performing diesel engine and with fewer moving parts, thus making it more durable. The company also is working on building a biomass powered gas turbine unit that generates power through the high-efficiency burning of agricultural and forestry waste.

That project is being worked on in conjunction with the University of Brazil.

Kesseli said he is proud of his company and notes it is poised for substantial growth.

In the last six months, the company has added 10 jobs and is looking to add to its current space and have more room to test prototypes.

"We are here to stay," Kesseli said.

He said his company was going at a "steady pace" from 2004 to 2007 before the last year prompted Brayton to pick up a couple "big jobs" prompted by a larger interest in clean energy technology.

"It's a pleasant surprise to have so many research opportunities," he said.

He said he suspects New Hampshire's clean energy economy has been growing slower than other states' because the Granite State is smaller and has fewer of the major research and design companies or university programs found in states like California and Colorado.