Reaction Design Aims for Cleantech Boom with Combustion Simulation Software

The world of combustion science is much like fluid dynamics, an intense and ever-changing pattern of turbulence, a swirling river of fire and complex chemistry.

So it’s only apropos that San Diego’s Reaction Design, which seemed adrift for a decade or more, now finds itself at a powerful confluence of forces in combustion technology. Increasing environmental restrictions on greenhouse gases and fossil fuels—combined with surging advances in new types of fuels—are opening a huge cleantech opportunity for the software developer’s simulation technology, which models the gaseous chemical reactions that occur in turbines and combustion engines.

To CEO Bernie Rosenthal, the changes have come fast and furious since he joined Reaction Design in early 2005. “Our growth path is such that we could grow at 50 percent a year for the next few years, with no problem,” Rosenthal says. He declines to say just how much revenue the software company is generating, except that it is less than $10 million a year.

Rosenthal told me Reaction Design was founded roughly a decade earlier by David H. Klipstein, a former industrial chemical engineer, following the 1992 acquisition of his previous company, San Diego-based Biosym Technologies. Biosym had developed molecular simulation software that was used by materials and life sciences customers to model chemical reactions.

Simulation of NOx Reactions

Simulation of NOx Reactions

Klipstein, who holds a doctorate from MIT, founded Reaction Design to develop software licensed from New Mexico’s Sandia National Laboratory. The U.S. government had developed the software to analyze the combustion of rocket fuels, and Klipstein saw the potential to help scientists understand other types of gaseous chemical reactions, especially how byproducts are created during combustion. Rosenthal described the software at that time as “crude academic code that was not very user-friendly.”

The code that evolved into Reaction Design’s “Chemkin” software was primarily designed to analyze combustion processes. But Rosenthal says … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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