Meet zero-emission water heater pioneers, prototyped at Hacker Lab Meet zero-emission water heater pioneers, prototyped at Hacker Lab
Yanda Zhang, David Chapman and Sophia Racke are helping save the world through innovating a 'forgotten' appliance. Photo of the team unloading prototype parts courtesy of ZYD Energy.

Water heaters may be the last thing on your mind, but did you know they are one of California's top sources of emissions and working overtime during the pandemic? Inside Hacker Lab, meet the team working to change that through product design, market knowledge and startup ingenuity. 

ZYD Energy is a startup with a big mission: Significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of water heaters, which for many are considered 'forgotten' appliances — something you'd never think about otherwise.

"Water heating is such an essential service for all of us. But it is also the second largest or in California, the largest use of carbon emissions of homes," said founder Yanda Zhang. This recent Bloomberg News article explains more on the problem:

"In California, water heating is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and gas water heaters account for 90% of the market. Swapping them for heat pump versions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from water heating in the state by as much as 77%, according to a paper published in January by the nonprofit New Buildings Institute."

Interested in joining Hacker Lab as a member? Explore your own possibilities and join the over 50 new members who have joined Hacker Lab since January 1 with our New Member Special or take a free tour.

Finding the market problem

On a Zoom call Wednesday, Yanda and team member David Chapman explained how the team moved into a Hacker Lab office to hash out ideas after winning a CalSEED award.

"We are a startup company. I started the concept and developed the prototype after testing the first version in my garage to use myself," Yanda said. "When I had David join me, we wanted to expand but needed an accessible space. We saw Hacker Lab was a really good resource and David moved in to start modeling the prototype."

The team started in July of 2020. Yanda pulled up a picture of the prototype, currently under-wraps before their full product launch.

"Wow," I say, impressed by clean lines and clearly well-thought about design decisions.

This isn't your typical water heater. Slats on the sides give space for hooks. The materials are crisp. It reminds one of luxurious fireplaces you'd be proud to see in a Mid-Century Modern home.

"The real product is going to be even more impressive," Yanda said, smiling over the Zoom call. "It's packaged. It will be useful in your garage and is really going to transform the look in your garage."

"The water heater is pretty boring nowadays. We need to significantly reduce or eliminate carbon from those heaters. So we're making a product that people like with special design elements with the technology needed to significantly reduce or eliminate greenhouse gases."

Hacker Lab: So let's get into the nitty-gritty. Where did this idea come from?
 
Yanda: "In order to have effective reduction of carbon emissions, you probably have heard about energy storage. This technology has thermal storage through a hardwater tank. The downsize is you have two tanks — so consumer acceptance is part of this."

"We're like Tesla: Tesla is cool, so things are beginning to change in the auto industry."

Hacker Lab: Can you talk about the 3D-modeling?

David: 
[Showing prototype] "What you see here is made through SOLIDWORKS Visualize. I designed the whole prototype in SOLIDWORKS and then imported to Visualize. I wasn’t very familiar with visualized. It took quite a bit of time learning the system and watching YouTube video on perspective and lighting and all that kind of stuff.

It was a learn as you go process. I knew how I wanted it to look, it just took awhile to get it to that point to where the image in my mind lined up in my head."

Hacker Lab: How does the heat pump technology work?

David:  
"It’s a 100 gallon system, one tank is a heat pump water heater and the other is a simple hot water storage tank. We turn on the heat pump to heat water only when water is available and when power grid is at its lowest point. The storage system collects water from the heat pump water heater at those times when energy demand is low and renewables are available [and then uses it at the most efficient time]."

Yanda: "You store when there’s renewable energy and you use when there’s no renewable energy; so you avoid using the dirty energy — the concept is simple. The engineering part is how you control the valves and balls for efficiency while making sure people always have enough hot water."

Hacker Lab: Amazing. How has working at Hacker Lab supported your startup's development?

David: "I was there to build this first prototype and use the equipment and office space to comfortably make the 3D models. It's been great in the hot months to go into the conditioned coworking area and work."

Yanda: "Not to mention COVID - we had a spot to meet, unlike before where it was a lot of Starbucks. We just couldn’t do that anymore, so having a place to meet has been absolutely critical."

Hacker Lab: Have you felt safe at Hacker Lab?

David:  "Absolutely. They kept it clean and enforced policies. We didn’t bring our close colleagues in with the no-guest policy. We even did a video conference to show people so we could keep stuff safe."

Hacker Lab: Great! Any tips you would like to share to other entrepreneurs?

David: 
"Not sure we can offer tips at this stage. Except to say - just keep working at it. As problems come up, find solutions. That’s really what we’ve been doing for these past couple months."

Yanda: 
"I agree with David on that. Your ideas are always going to run into some walls. We’re always trying to find a solution. So far we’ve found them because we never gave up."

Interested in joining as a member? Explore your own possibilities and join the over 50 new members who have joined Hacker Lab since January 1 with our New Member Special or take a free tour.

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