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Translating to Soft Tissue:
Mechanical engineers help with knee injuries by developing computational models to characterize ligaments.


Farming Goes 3-Dimensional:
Vertical farming offers opportunities to grow more crops on a smaller footprint, especially in urban areas. It also presents unique educational opportunities.


Conor Walsh:
Pioneering soft exoskeletons

Consulting Mechanical Engineering
Services Offered by
Tom Gibson, P.E. Green Building Engineer

Tom Gibson

With a background in mechanical, plant, and facilities engineering and 15 years experience in manufacturing industries designing myriad mechanisms, machines, and systems, Tom Gibson offers consulting services with a unique twist that allows them to parallel the mission of Progressive Engineer Magazine. He brings a mechanical engineering perspective to the areas of sustainability and green building. Call it ecoeffective engineering. I'm licensed as an engineer in Pennsylvania and certified as a LEED Green Associate and Certified Recycling Professional.

Through publishing Progressive Engineer magazine, I have knowledge of many companies and technologies in the sustainability field and operate from a position of being able to research them quickly and extensively. With a broad overview and expertise, I can research many areas and do design work where applicable. When called for, I network with other companies and professionals to carry out hands-on assessment, design, fabrication, and construction. This allows me to cover the complete green building spectrum.

Energy and Water

Complete with barrels for collecting rainwater, the Philip Merrill Center, headquarters for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ranks as one of the most notable green buildings in the country. Courtesy Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Commercial, industrial, and institutional building owners and managers around the country face the task of auditing and documenting their energy use in a process known as benchmarking. The bright side: besides meeting legislation requirements, this can lead to improvements in facilities that bring energy savings and carbon footprint reduction. I can assist you with documenting your energy use through software such as Energy Star Portfolio Manager and consult on implementing energy-saving measures, researching a wide array of choices in the process.

I view this as a three-phase process. First, we start with an energy audit to document your energy use. As part of this, we can retrocommission your building's mechanical and HVAC systems to track down and fix problems. Then, we research and develop ways to reduce your energy use such as optimizing mechanical and HVAC systems, installing sensors and controls, modifying lighting, implementing submetering, and working with your power utility. Once we've picked the low-hanging fruit, we then look at implementing renewable energy sources such as wind, solar (PV panels for generating electricity and solar thermal for heating water), and geothermal. This may involve installing systems at your facility under various arrangements or buying power from offsite renewable sources. It may also include looking at a green roof, maybe even one that grows vegetables. This could eventually lead to what's known as vertical farming, a form of urban agriculture. Literally, the sky's the limit. Your building can become a net-zero energy user or even a positive energy producer.

They say the easiest way to reduce energy use is to reduce water use. I can also assess your facility and design systems to do this. This could include a system to harvest rainwater that falls on your roof and use it for graywater applications such as flushing toilets, manufacturing processes, or irrigation.

Courtesy Wholesale Solar.

While green building is gaining momentum as more and more buildings are attaining LEED certification, many people still cite cost as a deterrent. On average, green buildings do cost more than the conventional variety, but only about two percent. In the long run, you save money, as you recoup the initial investment. As an example, installing solar photovoltaic panels may have a payback of five years. In some cases, going green actually saves money upfront. For instance, one of the tenets of green building is to use salvaged or locally procured materials; these are obviously cheaper than bringing in new materials from far away. And green buildings often employ novel strategies for heating, cooling, and ventilating, therefore using smaller HVAC systems.

The landscape of technology, legislation, and economics in green building is complex and constantly changing. A green building engineer can delineate all the options available to you and break down the cost, payback, and return on investment (ROI) for each one. On typical projects, many financial incentives are available including rebates, renewable energy credits, and grants. Even if you have engineers in your organization that are knowledgeable in all this, they're most likely tied up on other projects. I can serve as an additional member of your engineering team to focus on green building, energy efficiency, and sustainability.


Courtesy Carleton College.

Why recycling? Besides the sustainability benefits, it just makes sense that an engineer who spent most of his career figuring out how to build things would now focus on how to deconstruct them. Services offered:

  • Design and specify equipment and systems for processing recycled materials
  • Design manufactured products for optimum recyclability
  • Research the recyclability of materials and the marketing of recycled materials
  • Conduct life cycle analysis on products and materials
  • Research and consult on recycling computers and other electronic devices
  • Research, design, and specify equipment and systems used in composting facilities, including aerated-static-pile systems
  • Procure sustainable building materials for architects and their clients
  • Design, develop, and find uses for salvaged and recycled materials (examples include old barn wood, timbers from old buildings, construction and demolition debris, super-insulating houses made from straw bales, roof tiles made from recycled tires to look like slate, and blown attic insulation made from newspaper)

Mechanical Design and Inventing

I have expertise in machine design, liquid pumping and storage, stress analysis, manufacturing processes, hydraulics and pneumatics, and compressed air systems. In addition, like many engineers, I have a creative side that I have applied to inventing in recent years. Services offered:

  • Develop new designs or assist in fleshing out your ideas
  • Fabricate and test prototypes
  • Assist in transitioning a new product to production
  • 3D CAD modeling and drafting
  • Conduct patent searches and work with patent attorneys in determining patentability and pursuing patents

Portfolio of Projects

Analyzed a 4-story office building to determine the solar load and if the chiller serving it was sized correctly.

Analyzed wind loading on rooftop solar thermal panels on an Arby's restaurant.

Assisted in the design of a home that maximizes passive solar, uses insulated preformed concrete walls for the foundation, and is set up for geothermal heating and cooling by a ground-source heat pump and solar photovoltaic panels on the roof.

Designed a hydraulically operated vertical baling machine for compacting and baling rag scraps for a company that recycles rags to sell them to industry and businesses.

Designed an aeration system for an aerated-static-pile composting system in Baltimore, MD. This involved designing piping systems and sizing and specifying blowers to supply air to compost piles to remove heat and moisture and supply oxygen to the microbes to enable the process.

Documented and load-certfied storage racks at a Leer manufacturing plant in Milton, PA that fabricates truck covers.This involved conducting stress analysis and creating 3D CAD models and drawings.

Designed and managed the project to fabricate and install a tank for storing sodium hydroxide and a pumping system for transporting it to two nearby buildings.

Calculated load data for and conducted finite element analysis on a 110-foot straight-stick fire truck ladder for Grumman Emergency Products. Also assisted in developing and testing an automatic ladder truck leveling system that uses hydraulic actuators and sensors and a PLC to place outriggers when the truck is deployed to a site.

Invented and developed new forms of mountain bike wheels and cross-country skis. This has involved designing prototypes and working with machine shops to build them.

Des Champs Labs in Natural Bridge, VA, manufactures air-to-air plate heat exchangers and incorporates them into ventilation and air conditioning equipment to recover heat and save energy. I researched and wrote many case histories featuring their equipment and placed them in trade magazines.

Researched and wrote an article on exercise machines that generate electricity; these use alternators and inverters to convert human energy to AC power fed to the grid.

Researched and wrote an article on the new Syracuse University Green Data Center, which uses microturbines to generate electricity in a distributed generation mode. Heat is recovered from the turbines to heat water and the building, and it also powers absorption chillers, yielding a combined-cooling-heat-and-power (CCHP) system projected to save 50 percent of the energy used in typical data centers.

Researched and wrote an article on BrightFarms, a company that designs, installs, and operates rooftop hydroponic greenhouse systems, which offer a more sustainable way of growing fruits and vegetables than conventional agriculture.

For more information or to discuss your needs, contact Tom Gibson at 570-713-4812 or tom@progressiveengineer.com.


Tom’s Green Building Technology Portfolio

Some Techniques You May not Know About

In publishing articles in Progressive Engineer Magazine, we come across many technologies that relate to green building and sustainability. These play into Tom Gibson's consulting services, as they give him a unique vantge point for creatively researching and applying technologies. Most of these are new, and some are still under development, but many can be applied today. Stay tuned as we continually add to the list.

Building Materials
Building Mechanical Systems
Building Transportation Systems

Electrical Components

Building Materials

Concrete-and-Foam Composite Wall
Known as an insulated concrete composite wall system, Solarcrete consists of a core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam insulation sandwiched between two layers of concrete formed by spraying shotcrete over steel reinforcing bars. With an R-value of 36 at 12” thick, the energy-efficient wall reduces heating and cooling loads and provides thermal mass. See our story on it at www.progressiveengineer.com/company_profiles/solarcrete.htm

Flexible Concrete Resists Deterioration
A flexible concrete known as an engineered cement composite (ECC) has small fibers embedded in it with a thin surface coating that allows them to slip rather than break under heavy loads. This deceases the weight of the concrete up to 40 percent and increases the tensile strength and durability, resulting in reduced maintenance requirements and lifecycle costs. When excessive loading damages ECC, micro cracks stabilize, preventing water or deicing salts from seeping in and attacking steel reinforcing bars and delaying or eliminating deterioration. See our story on this at www.progressiveengineer.com/profiles/victorLi.htm.

Lightweight Wallboard Made from Coal-Fired Plant Effluent
U.S. Gypsum is producing wallboard that weighs up to 30 percent less than the conventional variety at four of its worldwide plants. This increases production on construction projects, lessens the strain on workers carrying and positioning wallboard panels, and reduces the costs of transporting the product, including fuel use. One of the company’s plants manufacturing the lightweight wallboard is located at PPL’s coal-burning electric generation plant in Washingtonville, PA. Limestone is scrubbed from the effluent from the generation process and used in the wallboard.

Steel Technology Uses Recycled Rubber and Plastic
Traditionally, in electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking, scrap is reprocessed using large amounts of nonrenewable fossil fuel. Polymer injection technology mixes in plastic and rubber waste, reducing the reliance on coke. The technology reduces carbon emissions, requires less electricity, and reduces the amount of plastic and rubber that ends up in landfills. One Steel, in collaboration with the University of New South Wales, has seen a 3 percent energy reduction, 3 percent productivity improvement, and 10 percent reduction in carbon emissions in test plants.

Building Mechanical Systems

Recover Heat from Water Flowing Down the Drain
Made by RenewABILITY Energy, the Power-Pipe drain water heat recovery (DWHR) system is a double-walled heat exchanger that recovers heat energy from the wastewater flowing down your household drain and uses it to warmincoming cold water. Single-family homes as well as multi-unit residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings can take advantage of thePower-Pipe to reduce energy use and water heating costs. Multiple coils of rectangular copper tube wrap together in parallel around a central copper drainpipe. Hot water flowing down the drain transfers its heat toincoming cold water moving up the coils in a counterflow mode. See our story on this at www.progressiveengineer.com/company_profiles/renewability.htm.

Building Transportation Systems

Elevators More Efficient
Elevator manufacturers, including ThyssenKrupp Elevator, report that switching from a motor generator drive to a variable voltage variable frequency (VVVF) drive can save up to 50 percent on energy consumption. In addition, installing destination-based dispatching software can increase efficiency by up to 35 percent, saving energy and improving productivity. A dispatching system directs passengers to the elevator that will get them to their destination quickest. Grouping people together based on the floor they are traveling to reduces the number of stops and improves overall efficiency of building traffic.

Electrical Components

Superconductors Offer Zero Resistance to Electrical Flow
Scientists and engineers are busy developing superconductors, materials that have no resistance to the flow of electricity when cooled to a very low temperature. SuperPower builds electric power components such as underground transmission cables, transformers, motors, generators, and fault current limiters incorporating superconductors. They act as perfect conductors of electricity because they dissipate no energy by resistive heating; therefore, they hold tremendous promise for saving energy and improving the performance of these devices and, in turn, our nation's electrical grid. See our story on this at www.progressiveengineer.com/features/superPower.htm.


Aerovoltaic Wind Power: No Moving Parts
Accio Energy is making distributed wind energy systems scalable and affordable with Aerovoltaic energy systems that convert wind energy to electricity without any moving parts. Its Aerovoltaic energy systems offer the low cost of big wind with the modularity and flexibility of solar, creating a new direction in wind energy. Aerovoltaic technology does not rely on electromagnetic effects to produce electricity from the wind's kinetic energy, just as photovoltaic cells exploit photoelectric effects rather than electromagnetic principles. Instead, it harvests energy by using the wind to move electrically charged particles against a voltage gradient.

Flexible Photovoltaics
Working with the Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing at Binghamton University, Endicott Interconnect Technologies fabricates flexible circuits using a roll-to-roll process that mimics newspaper printing. In a variation of this, CAMM and EIT are developing flexible photovoltaics. While not as good as those made from silicon, they would be cheaper to make. They envision putting them on tents along with flexible LED lights, with the PV panels powering the lights. The Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP) at BU is researching and developing large-area, flexible, lightweight solar cells for aerospace, consumer, and industrial markets. See our story on this at www.progressiveengineer.com/features/advancedMicroelectronics.htm.

Trigeneration Adds a Cooling Component
The Syracuse University Green Data Center employs a novel trigeneration technique in which natural-gas-powered microturbines generate electric power on site. They capture the heat from this to heat the building and power absorption chillers that cool computers and servers. This increases overall efficiency and reduces energy use, creating a model its designers hope to replicate with other data centers as computer energy consumption soars. See our story on this at www.progressiveengineer.com/features/Orange-Goes-Green.htm.

Progressive Engineer
Editor: Tom Gibson
2820 Mexico Rd., Milton, PA 17847
570-713-4812 * tom@progressiveengineer.com
© Progressive Engineer