David Stapp is a pilot. He loves aviation. He loves planes and flying. Until recently the headquarters for the enterprise he founded, and is president of — Peregrine Turbine Technologies, LLC, (PTT) — were located on the second floor of the Wiscasset Municipal Airport.
But the need for more space arose with the growth and expansion of PTT. In early September, the company moved to 29 South Point Drive, off Birch Point Road in Wiscasset. The parcel, purchased from the town, includes two buildings built as model homes for a planned subdivision, and four adjacent lots.
The modern, airy new office space is in a quiet, peaceful location overlooking Ice Pond, with a breakwater isolating it from the Sheepscot River. It's a nice spot for CEO Stapp to concentrate on his pet project, the Peregrine Turbine, a jet engine that can run solely on biofuels, but will work also work quite well on conventional fuels like diesel fuel and natural gas, since they are also air-combustible.
You see, Stapp is also an inventor.
A 29-year veteran of aerospace engineering and turbo-machinery design, Stapp was born in California and raised in Colorado. He came east in 1985 and went to work for GE Aviation in Lynn, Massachusetts, where he gained professional experience in designing jet engines.
In 1996, he left GE Aviation and started his consulting business, Peregrine Consulting, Inc. In 1999, he moved his family and business to Camden, and in 2001 moved to Bremen, where he lives now.
Peregrine Turbine Technologies, owned by Stapp and investors, was started in 2012 for the purpose of developing a very high-efficiency jet engine.
Though jet engines are mainly used for aircraft propulsion, Stapp said they're used in a lot of other applications as well, including electric power generation and tank propulsion, like the army's M1 Abrams Tank.
In 2011, Stapp established a partnership with Bob Brooks, now the Chief Business Development Officer and COO of PTT, and the two decided the idea for the turbine engine was breakthrough technology. The Peregrine Turbine was born. The PTT website states: “Our technology is projected to bring a whole new level of performance, fuel efficiency, and low emissions to the turbine world.”
The biofuel-propelled Peregrine Turbine is the first engine of its kind. “No one has ever made one like this,” Stapp said. “It's a brand new concept, and it's between 25 and 60 percent more fuel efficient than any jet engine out there.”
The company is working with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “They are the keepers of the nation's nuclear secrets,” Stapp said. “They saw what we were doing about two years ago, and said, 'You guys are way out on the cutting edge, and we want to be teamed with you.’”
Stapp has spent the past four years working on the design for the engine, and it's now in the final stages. The company is in the process of purchasing the components to build the engine.
Where the prototype will be built is still up in the air. “We've been all over the map on that question,” Stapp said. “Sandia National Lab wants us to build, and test it for the first time, there.” Another option is the former Naval air station in Brunswick, but that would require substantial updating, according to Stapp.
As for the empty Mason Station, next door to the new headquarters, Stapp said that's not an option. “That site has some significant problems in terms of waste remediation. There are a lot of things that need to be cleaned up before it’s usable.”
Stapp describes the engine as “fuel-agnostic”: It doesn't care what it's burning, as long as it can burn in air. That's not true of any other turbine engine. Kerosene-based fuels and natural gas can be burned in a jet engine, but the Peregrine engine will burn only biomass. “We can burn chicken waste or ground up rubber tires — anything that can burn in air can be used in it. We call them air combustible fuels.
“Our engine doubles the efficiency of being able to convert biomass to electric power, so we can dramatically change the economics of using biomass to generate electric power.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that biomass is a renewable fuel source, because the carbon from the fuel gets sequestered by the forests that grow from the resulting CO2.
One of the largest industries in Maine is the logging industry. Paper mills only use the large parts of trees — the trunks. The tops and limbs are generally chipped up and blown back into the woods.
Stapp said there's around a three-million-ton sustainable harvest of just the tops and limbs in Maine, that mostly gets blown back into the woods. “That's enough fuel to generate 4.6 gigawatts of electric power with our engine. It’s an economic game-changer. Not only can we produce electric power biomass at the same cost as natural gas, but it's a native fuel source. And to burn it drives local economies. We're pretty excited about that opportunity.”
At present the company employs 14 people, but Stapp foresees hiring more in the future. “Once we demonstrate the technology the demands are going to be extraordinary. We see all the signs that we're poised for dramatic growth once we build our prototype. And our sole focus right now is building that prototype.”
The first test for the Peregrine Turbine will be on an electric power generator.
Where that occurs isn't set in stone yet, but Stapp said it will happen early next year, and his excitement at the prospect is palpable. “This is the best experience of my career so far.”
The project is being funded in part by the U.S. Air Force Research Lab in Ohio and the Office of Naval Research in Washington, D.C. Stapp is raising funds for the company through the sale of equity in the company. Visit the PTT website or call (207) 687-8333.
Peregrine Turbine Technologies will hold an open house and ribbon-cutting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6.