Sustainable Energy | After Dark Online
- [VO] Remember field trips and first dates, generations have come to the Exploratorium to learn and play. Now we need your help and every dollar you donate will be doubled. Sustain the wonder. (bright music) - Welcome to After Dark Online where we continue to explore the world through science, art and conversation. My name is Sam and I'm a program developer here at the Exploratorium and I'm joined by my amazing colleague, Mary Miller the director of Environmental Science Partnerships. Tonight we're thrilled to be bringing you all sorts of information about sustainable energy.
At the Exploratorium on Pier 15, we are on a LEED certified building that has a goal of net zero energy use. And even though I've worked in that building, I'm not familiar with exactly what that means or all the systems that are involved. So Mary, you went on a little tour of the building to kinda find out what that means and we're gonna be comparing the building's sustainable energy systems to that of a French vessel the Energy Observer, which docked right next to Pier 15 we got to take a tour to see their energy systems too. Tell us about what we're gonna be looking at.
- Yeah, I mean, I just so excited about this program tonight, it's really cool. And as you said, we started with a tour and a conversation with Chuck Mignacco who's the Exploratorium's operations manager to see the energy systems in our building. Every time I talk with Chuck, I learn something new about how the bay water can both heat and cool our building and our solar energy and all the systems it's just quite complex. He's gonna talk about that, talk about the fact that we use no fossil fuels and we're also gonna highlight the amount of work it takes to actually keep those systems running. I think those guys are heroes and you will see when you see that segment. - Yeah this is a real treat for people who are interested in behind the scenes and shop talk.
I was astounded when I learned how much maintenance needs to go into this. But just to pause once more on our theme for tonight sustainable energy, that feels like the direction that we need to move through to as a country and as a world. Can you tell me a little bit about what that means and how it differs from the energy systems that we're all normally used to? - Yeah, I mean, I think this is something that a lot of people are thinking about, like what kind of changes need to be made so that what, the energy that we use to power everything from our buildings to transportation doesn't impact climate, doesn't add carbon to the atmosphere. And so you know we're a model for how a building can operate. The Energy Observer is a model for how ships can operate and even though it's a 100 foot vessel, it has systems on it that could be used for shipping, for these large container vessels and help them. So we know that the current administration, the Biden administration wants us to be net zero by 2050, with electric vehicles and electric houses and solar and wind and all this sustainable energy but it's happening right now.
It's happening right now in our building with the ship. So we thought it's a really good opportunity to kinda show that off and see what the future can be and how you know, how bright it can be and how kinda interesting too. I'm kind of a geek and I loved sort of like getting into the nitty gritty with Chuck and with the Energy Observer sailors.
- And I love that we get to use our building as a demonstration model. We're an education institution and here we are getting to show what future possibilities are. Let's take a look at the interview we did with Chuck. - Hi, I'm here in the observatory with Chuck who's basically like the super of the building. - Yeah we have a facilities yeah facilities manager.
- Yeah, you take care of everything. So we're in the observatory, it is the only brand new building that we had on our campus. Basically this is like, was like a shed, a maritime shed. And so how did you even, how was it even approached to think about this being an energy sustainable type building? - Yeah, it was an interesting, it's an interesting thing because when you're looking at like LEED certification and whatnot it's easier to build a new building to LEED standards but taking a historic facility and bringing it up to those standards is a whole different approach. And so it really helped that this area of the city is an unshaded area so when you're looking about solar power that type of thing and if you're thinking about the type of cooling we do in this building, being in the location that we are is one of the things and then figuring out how to combine all that with a very old building is the goal. I think that the the engineering companies that we worked with when we moved here did a really good job of taking advantage of a very old building.
- Yeah and we actually have a great video while the building was being built of you just showing off some of these systems so let's roll that now. (upbeat music) - They've experimented in this building with every new thing you could think of. But comparing this building to the old, to the palace of fine arts I do love the palace but this is like a Lamborghini versus a Volkswagen yeah that's missing a cylinder. I've never worked with a building with this much solar, I'd never worked with a building that has, that heats and cools itself through ocean water, using hydronics through all the floors and removing heat all the rooms with by the same technique I've never, it's all new to me. Building a net zero building means that we're like one of the most efficient buildings there is in the country. We're not burning any fossil fuel so one of the stoves in the kitchen burns a little for cooking but we're not burning any for boilers.
Most new facilities burn tons of natural gas and fuels to keep the building hot and cool. We're not expelling water from a cooling tower 'cause we're using the ocean water to cool the building. So by not having a cooling tower we're not expelling 2 million gallons of water into the air annually.
The fact that it's solar and we're electric it's just as nice is a very good mix of building. Why don't we go take a look at the few of those mechanical rooms and we'll start with the bay water room 'cause that's pretty much where it all kinda starts. This is the heart of the heating and cooling system for the Exploratorium. When this building was being designed one of the key features of the building is that it is over the ocean. Whether it's hot in San Francisco or cold in San Francisco, the average temperature of the ocean maintains the same so it is a good source of this stored energy for use in the building.
Most commercial facilities have either boilers in the basement or cooling towers on the roof. Our building is much more efficient because we are using the bay water through heat exchangers to help regulate temperature throughout the museum. So some of the things you see in the room from here the blue pipe would be salt water that is coming in from the tank from below, the yellow pipe is the building water which is the pH 9 rust inhibited fluid that's moving throughout the entire facility through all the floors, all the classrooms and all the server rooms and since the building is really long and the sun travels across the top of the building during the day it turns off and turns on sections of heating or cooling throughout the building.
The bay water room has an intake screen that is down in the ocean about 30 feet down. It is a large stainless like strainer that allows salt water to come in to our two wells that we have. These two wells have two submersible pumps that pump a saltwater up and into a filtration system that keeps barnacles and very small sea life from getting into the main mechanical system. It then travels through the filter and down into a holding tank where the seawater is kept until heating or cooling needs are being met. It then pumps that salt water out of that tank through a UV sterilizer and then into a titanium plate heat exchanger. You put fluid on opposite sides of the titanium plates and then the saltwater is on the opposite wall of those plates.
So they come together, but they don't physically touch. And what you get as a temperature exchange between the two through the plate of titanium. So after the bay water has come through the heat exchangers have done its work it is then returned to the bay.
- Okay so in the video you talked about we use seawater we use bay water it's full of life. Tell us kind of how you maintain that, you have to pump that into a drum. How do you maintain the pumps in the drums? What's the process? - So we have four pumps in the main system. So they have a very long concrete tube that goes down into the bay to almost to the bottom of our, this area's about 20 feet deep in the ocean. We draw a saltwater through a screen, external screen that rotates with brushes to keep it clear of debris. That lets salt water into the first two pumps which bring it up through the filters.
And then we, that part right there we bring divers down to clean the screens that are going in once a year. The external screens they come up on winches into the room so they can be cleaned on the deck and then those are lowered back into place during the operation. The two, first two pumps come up on winches into the room and then they are cleaned, sent out once a year to have maintenance done on them just to be inspected. And then there're, we use a type of anode to protect it from the salt water.
And then those get lowered back in it's about every three months we have three motors so we're just rotating, like juggling through the things and then from that part of the system it goes through a 60 micron barrel filter. So the water goes into an inside of a barrel, drains through and then that, when that cleans itself it goes into a trough and allows the small sea life to make it down into the bay and then beyond that as a tank with two more pumps and hopefully most of the sea life that was caught in advance of that, but some of it makes it through and then that grows in the tank. So that annually has to be drained and cleaned and those pumps are lifted out and cleaned. And then it goes from there into a titanium plate heat exchanging system and that's 500 plates so total about a thousand titanium plates.
Each one of those plates has to be removed every five years and cleaned especially on both sides, inspected then reassembled back into the system. - [Mary] Wow. - [Chuck] Yup. - Okay so you have to actually go on boats to go under the pier, tell us like that part of the maintenance.
- So there's couple of parts of the system that are under the pier, there's our sewer system so all of the wastewater of the building travels and pipes to pumps and then is pumped straight from underneath the building. So all of that plumbing has to be inspected every quarter. So we go in a boat and we go along to every single pipe coming through the concrete and look at it to make sure that the banding and the everything that's holding under the pier is holding up correctly and making sure that all of our systems that were remove waste from the facility make it to the street and not drip in the bay. And then when we're down there we also look at what was called the outfall. So we are changing the temperature of the water when it comes to the building.
We try to do it through a very small degree. So one to two degrees plus or minus so that we don't cause a change in the temperature in the area which will then change the type of animals or growth in that area. So we drive the to our outfalls there's very large pipes that are coming down and they're spraying water over a large 15, 20 foot area and we'd take pictures of the water and we take pictures of the piles around it and we make sure there's not any debris or foam or anything that would come from a chemical being introduced that type of thing it's just gotta be pure seawater.
And every quarter we turn that over to the city of San Francisco and do a full report on it every quarter to the state. - Okay so just take me on a journey just to inspect the seawater system. You're in a boat, you go under the pier, first you stop at the backwater pipe and make sure that's clear and if you need to you clean it. - That's actually, that's I enjoy that the most. So at first of all we get to use our amazing crane which I love our crane. We had to lower our boat into the bay and then my coworker Jesse Mcquitty and myself we go down and we go to the outfall.
So you've got the pipe, it's about a four inch pipe that where the, all the sea life has been dumping out. So a lot of that sea life catches in the pipe and starts to grow and so it starts to restrict the pipe. So usually Jesse gets on the end of the boat, stands up puts his arm up into all the sea life and pulls it down and that's when all the extra water releases on him in the boat.
So it's just one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. And then he usually drives the boat forward and lets it drip on me while I'm sitting there. And then once we get that clear, there's also a pipe that's going down into the bay with temperature sensors on it. So he inspects that to make sure that the temperature sensors haven't been damaged 'cause there's a lot of debris in the San Francisco Bay that moves around logs and whatnot and they, if they hit any of this stuff it'll cause damage.
So that's inspected to make sure we're getting proper bay temperature and then we go from there to inspect the actual large six inch outfall pipes that have a, it's like a nozzle that creates a spray so that the water can actually cool a bit in the air before it hits the water. And so all that has to be inspected and taken a look at. - That sounds like a lot of fun. - It is actually, it's definitely keeps it interesting. - So I can completely understand how bay water can cool a building.
You talked about the titanium and the fluid that runs through the building, but I still don't get how bay water can heat the building. So I think we need to talk about the mechanical room. Can you tell me, I know there's something in there called the heat pump. - Correct.
- So can you tell me how, can you describe a little bit about how that works? - It's interesting 'cause it kinda uses a similar technology of exchanging temperature between two different things. So it's, you've got a very large compressor, right? And you're taking a gas, we use a type of green Freon it does less damage to the environment, the atmosphere and you take this gas and you compress it under a lot of pressure and it pushes it from a gaseous state to a liquid state and that in that process creates heat, the work, the energy required to compress it makes heat. You put that heat into a heat exchanger where half of it is that liquid, the other half is the building fluid that's running through 45 miles of our floor, all our heaters and cooling the system everything like that has got liquid going through it. That's on that one side and as it's going through it heats that liquid. And then as that gas goes from the liquid state back into the gaseous state, it creates a low pressure, it gets cold on the opposite side of the same machine and the water on the cold side is now going through those heat exchangers and making cold liquid.
So we're making hot and cold at the same time. You have a heat demand sometimes in the winter so people are needing heat. So you're using more heat in the building, or in the summer you're using more cold. One of the two of those needs to be brought somewhere else.
So that's the balance is like when we're making cold to cool the building, we need to move heat from the building when we're and then the opposite way from there. - Yeah and so I also understand that the building system has fluid pumps and sometimes you're just moving heat around like we have server rooms that are warm and we might have another, you know office room that's cold and so you're not even using the compressors you're just moving the heat. - Right moving heat around yup exactly right. So sometimes it's, you've got, let's just say our building water is 70 degrees, You're moving 70 degree water around the building, you're drawing heat into that 70 degree water out of a server room, we have these large radiators above the server rooms.
The server have, every server has little fans on them and they're blowing their heat into a hallway and that hallway is drawing up that heat and absorbing in the liquid. At the same time we're trying to blow cool air into the classrooms and stuff like that so it is a balance and you just, that's what our, we have a control system that Jesse operates the building management system that kind of keeps it all in perspective. - Chuck, we talked about net zero.
Basically that's like net zero carbon. Can you tell me exactly what that is? And we've been in a pandemic for a year so how are we doing with our goals for generating as much power as we use? - So net zero is the goal for like the, some of the organizations that are, like say reaching for zero or living at zero is that we make all of the energy that we need in a facility to cover all of our needs. And that at the end of the day we don't require city energy to do that. The way we work as a grid-tied system is that we give, we take the energy we need which is about half of what we make and give the other half back to the city during the day.
And at night we take back that other half at night so that gets us, the goal is a little bit here a little bit there and then at the end of the year you go that's zero. We operate somewhere in the area of about 74 to 75% efficient to that net zero goal during the year normally. Since the pandemic we have been net plus which we are making more energy than we use just for the fact that we're not operating a lot of equipment and we don't have the public here for heating and cooling but it's, the last year of this pandemic we have made quite a bit of electricity. - And so we have solar panels that supply electricity those have to be maintained. - That's correct. - Yeah, so I understand sometimes they get really dirty and in particular last fall they got very dirty because of the fires.
Can you talk a little bit about what you needed to do in order to you know? - So we have a company that comes out every year. There are five people that come out and they scrubbed the entire 85,000 square feet of solar. So that's, we have 5,740 panels and they go through and rinse, scrub and clean all of them annually. And we held off because of the fire season to the very last bit and so we had quite a bit of ash across the building and it did cut our performance a bit and it's a good amount of work to get it done. But yeah, we do that every year to keep the building going. - And so that's probably something that people who have solar on the house have to think about right? That, you know.
- Absolutely and people in other residentials, homes are lucky in the sense that some people have a pitch on their house and the rain clears a lot of the dirt. Our particular building due to its historic nature most of our panels are laying pretty flat on the top of the building and so we collect more dust and debris than most facilities that have solar but every design has its challenges. - So this is an all electric building and I think you know net zero in the country in the world we want to basically go to all electric. Can you just talk about if you were gonna think about this as a homeowner, what do you need to consider if you want to do this, if you're building a house and you want to be all electric and maintaining these systems? - I think that it, like this building there's a lot of architects, a lot of design people who really spent a lot of time looking at how this building is gonna function and live as a living, kind of a living organism as a facility. And I think that a homeowner needs to if you're designing and building your own home, you need to design and build your environment. And so more installation for different areas of the country, less installation depending of your California and whatnot.
If you're putting solar on how much energy are you using? What are you planning on using later? Are you, do you want to eliminate gas from your house? I think you just become more involved in your own design of your property. And I think you also become more involved month to month on what goes on in your own home. You know, how much energy using the refrigerator, or leaving lights on I mean, you used to turn the lights off just to save energy but it was just kind of a thing, you know when you were a kid and I think now more people are designing around the fact that they're like, okay this is how I live at night or in during the day so that I can live free of dependency upon the system. I think that's really, you know everything is based on demand and our energy goals in this country are to use less fossil fuels and so it's all about demand.
So if you can use less we don't need as much and that'll lessen the desire for it. - And so kind of the ultimate thing is to be off-the-grid, to take no energy from an energy company. - Correct - Is that even something we should think about here, what would it take to be off-the-grid? - There are more and more people who live, you have, you can either live off-grid or you live grid-tied, or so you either are tied to the grid and you are making electricity and giving it back and taking, which is good in a sense is you are greening the grid in a way and then there are people now more and more who are backing up their house with the energy they need at night in batteries and they are making their solar during the day and they're using their batteries at night and they have removed themselves from the system.
And, you know there's still maintenance, the maintenance doesn't change you still have all the maintenance to do, but you are more involved in your personal living. And so yeah I see that as something that's, will continue to go. - And if we wanted to do that, if the Exploratorium wanted to be off-the-grid, what would it take? What kind of battery storage would we need? - A lot, so it's square footage. It's what can you afford to give up? So we have amount of square footage for the public.
So we'll need a certain amount, we like to have a lot of people here, we need a lot of room for exhibits and all that. So you have to say to yourself, well I need to put, for a building that makes 1.4 megawatts of electricity, I'm gonna need to find a place to put four 40 foot shipping containers where the lithium ion batteries. And so do I keep them in the building or do I put them in the building next door, or do I float them on a barge of the building- - Oh my God that's such a good idea.
- Yeah and all that requires cooling too. The batteries get hot and they require cooling, they require energy and so it's just a matter of the balance of finding the right place for it. - Yeah so we're probably not gonna do that. - No. - But one thing we are gonna do is we're gonna have a ship visit here. - Correct.
- And it is called the Energy Observer and it is completely off-the-grid and it doesn't use fossil fuel. So it's gonna be really interesting to look at their energy systems and compare it to our energy systems 'cause they're about transportation we're about a building and maybe together we can sort of figure out like how we make the world. - No, they've got a system on that ship, on that boat, I'm really looking forward to seeing it's a, they're converting saltwater or liquids into hydrogen and using it as their propellant while they're sailing. and it's fascinating.
Yeah it's gonna be really cool to see. - So we'll sign off for now and then next time you see us, we'll be on a boat. - Wow that is a lot of work to maintain the building. I'm so impressed at how much went in to just creating and keeping up all those systems that we have. - I know, I mean, I sometimes stop by the bay water room and I, 'cause I'm a marine biologist and I'm kind of geek out over all the barnacles and the little ghost shrimp and stuff on there and I'm just amazed at what those guys do.
I think they're like heroes. The amount of work that they do, it's mostly behind the scenes but I'll tell you going under the piers in a boat with Jesse is a really, really fun so you should do that sometime Sam. - I would love to if I had the chance. And what I also appreciate about that work and those explorations under the building inside behind these closed doors it's a lot, it brings me a lot closer to understanding the function even if I don't fully understand it but to have that kind of intimacy of the systems it makes me realize how much work it is to rely on sustainable energy.
But in some ways it's a beneficial relationship because I get to learn more or I would get to kinda have more control and paying attention to the environment and the mechanical systems. - Yeah and we try to think about, you know, the Exploratorium building as a demonstration site, we try to as much as possible make those things visible. But I think and you're thinking about your home and whether you turn off a light or turn on a light the more you can get that data and the more you can understand it and then some people like Chuck was saying they put solar panels on their house and there are, you know, they're looking outside, it's a cloudy today or how much sunlight is there? And it just puts you like much more in this sense of kind of thinking of the system and what you're contributed to or taking away or helping and so I think that, you know the more that we get into these energy goals that the country is now setting the more that we'll all be participating in it and you know I just think that's just the future.
And I'm just excited about showing this off to people. - And the more we get to pay attention to the world around us, the water we live by, or the sunlight that's above us and really see that all the systems are connected. - That's right. - I had one question though. We got a brief glimpse into the heat pump room which was a massive for the massive-sized building and I couldn't really wrap my head around that. Is there- - I tell you, yeah, I'm with you I've always been a little bit concerned.
I mean like the bay water coming in and doing the heat exchange and cooling the building that's always made sense to me, but the heating of the building and Chuck did explain it but luckily we have an exhibit on the floor and a really good explainer and so we went out on the Exploratorium floor and played with the heat pump exhibit. - So I thought Chuck did a pretty good job of explaining how the heat pumps in our mechanical room work but we actually have an exhibit on the floor, we're on the floor near the shop in case you hear shop noise. So I'm here with Ron Hipschman and we're gonna sort of demonstrate this exhibit, the heat pump exhibit.
So what's going on here Ron? - Yeah it's a really cool thing. A heat pump you have inside your refrigerator and this is what makes the cold inside your refrigerator and the hot outside your refrigerator. It consists of a compressor.
This is a compressor right here. And the compressor increases the pressure in this coil right here and it decreases the pressure in this. We see we have pressure gauges right here that show us the pressure on each side. If we close the valve in the middle now and I turn the knob, you'll notice that the pressure is going higher here and lower over there. The compressor is compressing the gas into this coil right here, the gas inside of this is like a Freon style gas but it's an environmental gas.
- So Ron you're putting energy into the system normally that'd be electricity but you have a manual- - Normally you'd hook an electric motor up here yeah, but this is the Exploratorium so you get to provide the energy. - Okay, okay. - So the compression is compressing the gas on this side as a matter of fact it's compressing it to a liquid right here. It's turning it from a gas to a liquid. When you ever you compress a gas, it heats up.
And you know that because whenever you've used a bicycle pump the bicycle pump gets really hot. But here we're not only gonna compress the gas, but this little valve right here, we're gonna open it a little bit and let the gas expand. - Wait, wait, wait I wanna just feel this, - Oh go ahead and feel it. - You said this warm right?
- Yeah. - It's pretty warm. - It's pretty warm.
- Okay, okay. - All that energy is coming from me. (Mary laughs) So let me open the valve here a little bit. You'll see the gas spray out here.
Whenever you expand a gas, it cools off. Like if you've ever used a can of spray paint or hairspray or anything like that. - You're running out of breathe Ron. - I'm getting there yes.
But now feel that 'cause that's the gas that's- - Oh it's cold. - Yeah. - This is the inside the refrigerator this is outside the refrigerator. - These are on the back of the refrigerator or underneath the refrigerator and those are on the inside of the refrigerator. - Okay so you can stop the second you want Ron.
So in our building system, we bring in bay water and it cools through the titanium plates but sometimes we wanna actually have the building warm up. - Right. - So that's where we're really not interested in this. - No. - We're interested, no we're not interested in this we're interested in this.
- Right, you wanna put this part and heat water that's gonna flow through the building with these coils and the cool side you actually surround with a bay water and you take the coolness out and put it into the bay. - Okay so that's how we balance between the bay which is a constant like 52 or 3 degrees- - Right. - With the variable temperature inside these rooms. - Yes and if you want to cool a building then you use this to cool the water in the building, flow that through the building and the heat that you're taking out of the building here you heat up the bay water and it goes back into the bay. - And I've heard that you can use heat pumps now in houses.
- Yeah. - Instead of having, you know a gas water heater or an air conditioner you can use a heat pump to cool or warm you know your rooms. - Yeah and they're much more efficient. And so you can actually get an air conditioner and a heater all in one it's kind of cool. - It's very cool.
Well thanks so much Ron. - Sure. - Wow that was really informative. I now need to look behind my refrigerator to prove what I just saw on the screen. That was a fun demo. - Yeah I thought it was really fun.
I mean especially getting back on the Exploratorium floor and playing with exhibit and Ron, Ron has been an explainer at the Exploratorium for more than 40 years. He's pretty good don't you think? - He is a master at distilling these complex systems and sharing them with joy and a lot of sympathy for learners and so I know I appreciate all that he does. So we moved from inside the building, right to the boat, the vessel Energy Observer that was parked out right next door. What did you learn there? And how does that compare to some of the systems we saw in the building to what's on the ship? - Yeah, yeah, that is a really, really exciting opportunity for us because this a 100 foot vessel called the Energy Observer, it's a French sort of floating laboratory for renewable energy and they have these really interesting systems on there and they've been traveling all around the world.
They just came from the Galapagos in Southern California and up here and I understand, I mean we talked about like the horrible weather they had which is well known to sailors that it can, in springtime off the coast of California can be really rough. So we talked a little bit about that and also sort of this, I think that their mission, you know like the Exploratorium mission their mission is to show the world what it looks like to be net zero. They are completely off-the-grid, they use these extremely sophisticated technologies, a hydrogen fuel pump where they actually make the hydrogen out of seawater which is just, it's kinda crazy to think about it.
But they showed it to us and they talked about it and I dunno, it makes me wanna go out, makes me wanna go travel the world with those French sailors. - Well yeah, we're so grateful for you working with the partners to bring the ship to the Exploratorium. And I'm excited to take a look at what you learned out there on the Energy Observer.
- So welcome back, I am coming to you from the South side of Pier 15, the Exploratorium building and we have this beautiful ship behind, a boat I should say catamaran and we're here with two of the crew of the ship. Well welcome Marin and George. - Thank you very much.
- I'm gonna start with you Marin. I know that you were in the merchant navy, you've had a life at sea, what drew you into this work with the Energy Observer? - So, yeah, I was a French merchant navy officer and I have been sailing since my, I am a little boy. And 10 years in the merchant navy and Victor and I ourselves fund of the project, call me to come on board and to organize all the refit of the ship and the launch of the ship after to all the logistic of crewmen bills on boat so strategy the project in 2014. So for seven years now, it's an incredible to be the captain of this the Energy Observer the first hydrogen vessel around the world and- - Yeah, I mean, we're so happy it's here in San Francisco.
- And welcome to San Francisco people and to you for the warm welcome. - Yeah, well we love having this next to our building because we like to compare your energy systems are so interesting and so are ours so that's what we're here talking about. George, you're the boatswain, how did you get involved in the Energy Observer? How long have you been involved with this ship? - I used to be in the French Special Forces for five years and I came to help on the ship in 2018 first two weeks and in 2019, I came in London because Marin asked and then they proposed to me, they asked if I wanted to continue. So I started, I really started beginning of 2020 last year, full time and I'm very happy to be on the ship.
- It doesn't seem like a bad gig, it seems like- - It's nice. - Pretty fun. I'm sure that you work hard though. I mean, Marin probably makes sure you work very hard. - We, yeah we work together most of the time and there's plenty of things to do so. - Yeah.
- Yeah taking care of this high-tech ship. - Because there are only five crew members onboard- - Only five. - One captain, one engineer, one boatswain, we say the Swiss knife 'cause you do every thing. - Is he Swiss though? - No.
- No, no, no, no, no, French Swiss knife. One scientist and one reporter. So everybody has to do the cleaning, to do the cooking, to do everything. - So good.
- We work all together all the time. - You mean the toilets, the whole thing, everybody does everything. - Everything. - All right.
- Everything and also when we're doing stopovers like here in San Francisco, we have to share with people. So it can be interviews like now, but it's also, we have visits all the time and so we have to do both technical things and you have someone, hey, hello, how does it work? What's the aim of the project? - So you guys are like- - And we have to answer too. - But it's a pleasure for us because it's the purpose for the project is to share the technology.
- So you're like ambassadors and the mission of the Energy Observer when it comes to a place like this is what are you doing here? I know you're recharging fuel cells in that but what is the purpose to go to cities and show your boat? - There are two purpose because there are the technical purpose to sail all around the world without CO2 emissions and there is the dialogical purpose maybe. - Yeah sharing with people is meeting local people, sharing about the project, that's very important when we have stop overs. - [Mary] Yes. - And we also have to produce hydrogen when we're stopped and buy some food, buy everything to continue. - To prepare the ship all the time for, for example we leave in three days and we cross the Pacific, we go from San Francisco to Hawaii and after to Hawaii from Hawaii to Tokyo, for maybe for the Olympic games so. - So the long trips, we have prepare.
- Yeah, you gotta bring your, get all your food, yeah okay. So I understand, before you came up here you were in LA Los Angeles and you came up the coast and ran into some of our really bad spring weather. Tell us about that trip and what it was like to go through the Golden Gate Bridge to get into San Francisco. - [George] Yeah. - [Marin] When we were in Los Angeles we saw those provisions, meteorological provisions and the- - They announced very strong winds and rough sea, but we decided, we didn't really have the choice so we decided to leave Long Beach and we had the rough seas and strong currents when we passed by the point- - And can I say they're going in the wrong direction.
- Oh yeah, everything was facing us. Wind facing us, the waves, the current, - [Mary] Yeah. - And so it's, you need more power, more energy and also you don't want to break the boat. - And you can go from only one way you know if you are able- - You have to tackle, - You have to tackle all the time. - You can't go in a straight line so it takes even longer and if the waves are too big, too hard and you have very, very strong winds, you're slow and there's a risk of breaking things.
- Conception point, was a very difficult place to navigate. - [George] So then we stopped in. - [Mary] Point Conception yeah that sticks way out. I used to live near there and it's a windy, crazy, a lot of shipwrecks around Point Conception.
You did not wanna be one of them. - [George] But we made it. - [Mary] Yeah. - [George] It's not the first, we've had rough seas before- - Okay. - But we stopped in Morro Bay before it got worse because then it got worse for a few days. And then we left Morro Bay a few days later and we came up to San Francisco.
It wasn't an easy one either. - [Mary] So what about sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge that's such an iconic. - [Marin] That was great yeah, so right there, it's a bucket list.
- [Mary] Bucket list, yeah okay, that's cool. - [George] Yeah it was nice. - So we're here in San Francisco Bay, there is a lot of maritime commerce here. We have ships that are waiting to go into the Oakland port and I know you're a model of sustainable energy and sustainable transportation, what lessons can maritime industry get from the work that you do? Is it possible that you could be completely self-sustaining container ship, is that the goal? - Yeah, I think it's more than possible.
It is a future and we have to go step by step. On this kind of ship it's, the weight is only 34 tons so we don't need a lot, a lot of hydrogen but we know it's okay we can sail the time with the ship. For example, if we pick a boat a container ship step by step I think, 10 day, in 10 years maybe we can reduce. - What we're trying to show is that the mix of renewable energies and the hydrogen storage is a light storage so it's, it can be very interesting for big cargo ships 'cause they can first reduce their carbon footprint by keeping the propelling system as it is right now, but using hydrogen to reduce the life onboard and all the power that's needed to cool some of the containers, some of the refrigerated containers and all that. So at first it would be that and they could maybe also use sort of the same as these ocean wings to use a bit of the wind to move and to reduce again the carbon footprint and maybe one day they'll have big, big fuel cells and electric motors that would be great. - [Mary] Yeah.
- And beef off all the to reduce the speed. - Yes. - It's not necessary to sail at 30 knots or 25 knots.
If you reduce the speed, you reduce all. - And then reducing the speed has the benefit of protecting marine mammals because you have ship strikes with whales but also the noise, the noise is also disturbing to animals so that's a overall goal that's good for climate change and emissions but also good for ocean life - And bio-diversity. It's one of our future project on the ship to the noise tool.
- To measure the noise of our systems but also the noise in the sea. - Oh so you're gonna collect like hydrophone recordings, Oh, that's really fascinating. - We already do that but we try to- - To equip the boat. - To equip the boat with very good system. - With better systems. - Oh and that would be good for scientific research because you could understand and track whales and dolphins.
- Everywhere we go. - Yeah, that's good. - And the ship doesn't do any noises so it's very important because it's not- - It's not polluting the sound underneath because we're very silent so that's why we see more mammals in the sea and more wildlife. - We are under four kilohertz of noise and animals doesn't like if you're more than five if I remember exact. - Okay. So, you have very sophisticated energy systems and you actually produced a video that explains it very well. So we're gonna roll that video now and then come back and talk a little bit more.
- [VO] Energy Observer is the first hydrogen vessel autonomous in energy that doesn't emit greenhouse gases or fine particles. This electrically propelled boat of the future works thanks to a mix of renewable energies and a system of hydrogen production by seawater electrolyzers, fully decarbonized, decentralized and digitalized. First French ambassador for the sustainable development goals, Energy Observer has undertaken an incredible legacy for the future, a six-year world tour with 101 stopovers across 50 countries to meet the pioneers reinventing economy, morbidity, agriculture and housing, building a more supportive world and finding solutions to protect by diversity.
More than a boat Energy Observer is a true media for the planet. The documentary series and soon a hundred percent positive digital media. Energy Observer Solutions which will promote the 17 sustainable development goals to the general public. Since its departure from Saint-Malo in June, 2017, our floating lab did 36 stopovers, visited 16 countries and traveled more than 10,000 nautical miles. We can now announce our energy records.
Thanks to three different technologies of solar panels including bi-facial and heterojuctions, our solar power reaches 28 kilowatts and is upgraded every year with new casings and technologies. It is light, reliable, strong, and efficient. We have worked hard to develop our wind resources and some of them did not reach expectations. In 2019, we have decided to shift to another new technology. The ocean wings that are tested now in Northern Europe before crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific next year. These wings are plug and play, fully automated, reefable and have been designed to be produced industrially for any kind of ship.
They are very efficient and we will bring them to the same level of reliability as our other systems on board. Thanks to the wind propulsion, these wings allow us to produce even more energy during navigations by means of the conversion of our electric engines into hydro-generators. We are aiming to produce hydrogen while sailing a true world first. The potential of these wings for maritime transport is huge. Up to 42% cuts of the energetical consumption of commercial vessels.
We are very satisfied with our hydrogen production chain on board. In 2018, a 100% of the hydrogen used was produced on board. Energy Observer's electrolyzer has produced more than half a ton of pure hydrogen from seawater. - Okay I wanna talk about wind, ultimate green energy.
Sailboats have used wind for millennia, right? The Polynesian sailed across all of the Pacific with kind of a double-hulled, not that different a shape of your catamaran, but the sails are much different. Can you talk about your sails and how they work? They're not even actually sails are they? - So on the ship we don't say sail we say wing because it's a shape of the sail is more closer than wings of airplane. - Okay.
- There are two, I don't know, - You have a- - Two parts. - Yeah you have a flap system it's like a vertical airplane wing. We call them ocean wings. And so the shape is, makes it more efficient than a normal sail so we can reduce the size of them.
- [Marin] We speak about 1.7 more efficiency than a normal sail. - [Mary] Okay - [George] For the same size.
- One thing very important on this technology so just have to push on the button and they hoist alone. - [Mary] Oh so you don't do that, what you maybe used to do. - [Marin] And after you push another button and they adjust it.
- So it's all fully automatic. - Right, so you just push a button, nobody's out there trying to raise the sails in high wind or reef it or. - No because you have sensors on the top of the masts and they adapt to the wind, to the heading. - Themselves yeah.
- Yeah. - If you turn the wheel of the ship, they change your course and they adjust themself. - And they do it better than a human being. - And this technology, the wind wings is that right? - [George] Ocean wings.
- Ocean wings, that may be could be container, could assist in propulsion for container vessels and it's, once you have the technology it's easy to operate and it's basically free. - Yeah that's why it's very important because totally automatic so you don't need more human on board to manoeuvre it so for owner of ship it's very important because you can keep the same number of crew members on board. - And I think it might have the added advantage of not being so big it doesn't shade your solar panels which is. - [George] Yeah true. - I know in a lot of sailing vessels they have a diesel motor when the wind stops, so they're not just in the doldrums, but you have electric.
Tell us a little bit about how that works. - So we have two electric motors, so on both sides. And they use electric electricity that we store in the batteries lithium-ion batteries.
So we have around 100 kilowatts per hour of electricity in the batteries. That's the short term storage. So it's during the day with the solar panels, get recharged and if we need the propellers we, it just goes to the engines. But when we have excess we, of solar most of the time when we're stopped, we can then use this excess of electricity to produce hydrogen from the sea water.
- [Mary] Oh, okay now that is truly amazing technology because I know that hydrogen fuel cells are talked about for cars. Cars can run on them instead of batteries, electric cars, but the source of the hydrogen is really important because some of the source of the hydrogen that is used is made from fossil fuels. So that kind of defeats the purpose of being green.
You say you take it out of seawater, how does that work? It sounds like complicated. - So we produce a green hydrogen 'cause it's from the solar panels, from the wind. Most of the hydrogen you can find on land in the US or all around the world is gray hydrogen as you were saying. So we pump the sea water, we have to desalinate and purify the water.
So we have three different stages. And then we electrolyze, so we separate the water into hydrogen and oxygen. - [Mary] And you do that with? - An electrolyzer, it's electricity that goes through the, into the water and it separates the molecules.
- Okay, we're gonna return to that 'cause we have an exhibit that we can show how that works. 'Cause electrolysis is so cool for making hydrogen and oxygen. So you do, so now you have your pure hydrogen. - We only keep the hydrogen, we don't keep the oxygen. We could, but it would mean even technical parts and more technology and more weight. So it's not interesting for this project but it's possible.
In submarines they do their oxygen through this. It's almost the same. And then we compress the hydrogen into eight tanks we have on the sides and you can see on the sides. And we go up to two megawatts of power inside these tanks.
- For 62 kilograms of weight, 350 bars. - So the hydrogen is used in the hydrogen fuel cells it can, it's burned or it's consumed to make. - And it's an electrochemical reaction so that's the other way round from electrolyzers. It's you put back. - Put water back together.
- Yeah you take the hydrogen you created and stored you take the oxygen that's in the air, put them back together and it does a electrochemical reaction so it, then you have heat on one side heat on one side. - The fuel cell. - The fuel cell, heat on one side, so we keep it in water, we do hot water and electricity on the other side and that goes in into the batteries. And what comes out is water.
Steam water or. - That's amazing because it's like you're a self-contained system. And I know that it's you have, as you said solar power, batteries, hydrogen, hydrogen fuel cell and it all kind of comes together in a system. And I would like you to talk a little bit about how that can help people think about the world or even just our communities. I live in a house when I turn on the light or make breakfast in the morning I don't think about the energy. Maybe I do my washing at a time when the energy is cheap, but you have to pay attention to how you make energy and how you use energy.
Talk about what sort of, how is that gonna help people think about how to live more sustainably? your boat. - They have to come and sail doing- - Are you inviting me? 'Cause I will come. - When you will come back to your house you switch off all the lights every time you're welcome, (both chuckle) to the school. - That's true yes, when we live on the ship we, it's easier for us because we have this monitoring system so we can see what we consume, what we produce all the time. So it's easier than for normal people who live in the house, you don't know, you don't realize how much electricity you consume and how hard it is to produce this energy with renewable energies.
So because we have to count, we have to be careful when we do things on board, if it's for comfort or living we have to be sure it will not slow the boat down. - Yeah because we have a strategic program on the ship. - [Mary] Always optimize. - Yeah and you can say to the ship, no consume more than for example four kilowatts and so it feeds the main engine with four kilowatts. If you switch on the or one for example, you need two kilowatts for the other one so the ship reduce the automatically its speed. - That's good that it's automatic 'cause it's just five.
- So the captain say who switch on the one? Because- - Who's making toast? - The speed we will be late in our way so. - Who's making espresso that takes a lot of energy. - Or tea. - Or tea yeah, yeah. I mean, we have a similar system in our building because Chuck is always looking at our energy usage and if he sees every plug has a sensor on it and he knows that people are using too much energy and he will go and go no under the seat heaters, no, you know they daisy chain too much like he will leave a note and say you can't do this because we also try to live within this idea of a net zero where we produce as much as we need, but we're tied to the city power so we provide power when we're making too much of it and then we and at night when we need it we bring it in and so, but you have no grid, this is your grid on your ship so you have to mind it yourself.
Well, gosh I just have enjoyed so much talking to you about the ship and you gave me a tour of it and it's so exciting and you're going off to Hawaii in a couple of days. What's gonna happen after that? - After that, after Hawaii so when we arrive there, we'll be switching crews. And then the other crew will bring the boat from Hawaii to Tokyo for the Olympic Village because one of our partners is Toyota. The fuel cell in the boat is a Toyota fuel cell. Southeast Asia to maybe China we don't know yet and Singapore at the end of the- - Then after India, South Africa, we come back in the West Coast, the East Coast - You're gonna go around the Cape yes? Around South Africa.
- Brazil, French Indies again, - Miami. - After Miami Washington, New York and then we go - We go back to France for the Olympics in 2024 in Paris. So the ocean wings will have to go down before we get to Paris because of the bridges we won't get under.
- Oh wow I'm spectacularly jealous of you guys and wish you bon chance and thank you so much. - Thank you very much. - Thank you San Francisco. - That ship is so amazing and we got to take a tour of it before we did the interview and I was astounded at how futuristic just even the ship looks, especially compared to some of the systems which are only, you know almost a decade old at the Exploratorium this ship was shiny and new and really, really impressive. - Yeah and I think especially that the hydrogen fuel cell, because this is one of those technologies that is as being talked about to use in cars and all kinds of things and the fact that they're making hydrogen when they're underway was so super cool.
But also it's just like, you couldn't quite see under the hood of it, about how electrolysis happens, how electricity can separate water into its H2 hydrogen component and O2. But luckily we have an exhibit on the Exploratorium floor and we have Ron Hipschman to help us explain it. - All right. - So I think we can go show that now don't you think? - Let's roll Ron. - So we were just on the Energy Observer boat and they use electrolysis to get their hydrogen for their hydrogen fuel cells.
So we thought we come back in the Exploratorium and explore a little bit more about electrolysis at this great exhibit with Ron. Ron kinda explain what's going on here. - This exhibit is called liquid litmus. So what this is really doing is it's showing us acids and bases but we're not really interested in that today. What we're really interested in is the fact that this is taking water apart with electricity. So this is mostly water except for the indicator dye.
And over here there's a wire running into the in the water here that's charged positively and there's a wire over here that's charged negatively. And what that can do is it can pull the H2O apart into H and O so we get oxygen bubbling off over here and we get hydrogen bubbling off over here. And if you look at this closely you'll see that there's half as much oxygen as there is hydrogen it's H2O. So there's double the amount of hydrogen in a water molecule. - Okay I wanna talk about hydrogen because hydrogen is what they use as fuel.
So why hydrogen, what is so special about hydrogen that it can serve as a sort of a fuel cell? - Well, you can put hydrogen back into a fairly high-tech device and you can convert hydrogen in a liquid back into electricity so it's like the opposite of this. So what they're doing on the Energy Observer is they're taking the hydrogen gas they generate from seawater, they kinda throw away the oxygen they don't need it, but they could take that hydrogen and turn it back into electricity that they can use to power the motor, to move the boat around or some of their electronics. - Okay so they're converting the hydrogen back into electricity, but hydrogen also has a special property and you have a video that shows us just set that up a little bit. Hydrogen is highly flammable, as we all know we've seen the video of the Hindenburg and I gathered some hydrogen, I just made a foam out of bubble solution and I gathered it in my hand and then I brought that foam near a candle flame and the hydrogen just went up. - All right let's show that now.
- Ooh, thanks for that demonstration Ron and thanks for explaining a little bit more about electrolysis. - Thank you. - See you later. - Wow, well I've learned so much from this program.
Thanks Ron again for your expert explaining of all the demonstrations on the Exploratorium floor. This was really enlightening. I didn't know about half of what we learned about the building and that ship was kind of a beautiful, kinda glimpse of future ways we might be looking at energy.
I wanna thank especially Chuck Mignacco for making time to talk to us about his work with all the systems and the entire crew that maintains the building. It's really, really a lot of work and we appreciate them. And Mary, very special thanks to you for creating the partnership with Energy Observer and taking us on this tour for, you know, what we're passionate about. It's been a really special treat. - Thanks Sam.
It was really my pleasure I love doing these programs with you and really love the audience and that comes to them and we look forward to welcoming everybody of course back to the Exploratorium when we open again. Tonight is my last online program for the Exploratorium. Tell you it's been a hell of a ride, I've been here 30 years at this amazing place. They've sent me to the top of the Greenland ice sheet, the South Pole, to under Antarctic sea ice. I've had the privilege of interviewing Nobel laureates, welcoming research vessels to the pier, just especially been my honor to work with colleagues to bring to light both the existential crisis of climate change, but also the solutions and choices we can make to help us survive it.
Thanks to all of you who join us in this fight and goodnight. - Thank you Mary all your contributions have been invaluable and we wish you smooth sailing on your next chapter. Thanks for learning with us tonight everyone have a great night. (upbeat music)