AltaSea ocean technology center is flourishing on San Pedro's waterfront

A moonshot to make Southern California an international leader in the “blue economy” is taking shape in San Pedro as a $30 million renovation of three historic waterfront warehouses nears completion.

AltaSea in the Port of Los Angeles, as the complex is known, it is home to sea-oriented businesses such as the explorer's headquarters Robert Ballard, which located the wrecks of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck. His research ship the Nautilus moors there, as does the Pacific Alliance, a ship that farms mussels far out to sea.

On ships docked at AltaSea's dock, scientists from USC, UCLA and Caltech are developing methods to reduce carbon dioxide in the ocean and technology to clean ship exhaust stacks. Other tenants in the former warehouses include start-up companies building a new generation of remote undersea cameras and 3D printers to build components for offshore wind, wave and solar farms.

Jenny Cornuelle Krusoe, executive vice president and COO of AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

An aerial view of the Captura ship, where crews monitor the equipment used to extract carbon dioxide from seawater.

An aerial view of the Captura, a ship in AltaSea where crews monitor the equipment used to extract carbon dioxide from seawater.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“AltaSea is a collaboration between education, research and business,” said Jenny Krusoe, executive vice president and chief operating officer. Its size and waterfront location, she added, make AltaSea “a unicorn piece that was essentially created to be the mothership for the blue economy.”

Mayor Karen Bass and others who played a role in AltaSea, including City Councilman Tim McOsker and Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka, are expected to officially open the facilities at a ceremony Wednesday.

AltaSea is repurposing a previously moribund wharf that once played a rich role in the evolution of Southern California.

In the early 20th century, Los Angeles merchants and city leaders sought to capture some of the increased global shipping that was expected to pass through the Panama Canal, a link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that opened in 1914. They created a municipal wharf. on the waterfront of what has become the sprawling Port of Los Angeles, with a long strip of warehouses where ships were loaded and unloaded into trains, carts and trucks by burly longshoremen.

The growth of container shipping after World War II gradually made City Dock No. 1 redundant for moving goods, and the wharf was little used for decades. By 2011, advocates, including port officials, will saw it for what it was: a prime 35-acre site for a research center and technology companies focused on sustainable use of the world's oceans.

An important part of the nonprofit's mission is creating jobs at groundbreaking companies. Among them is the nonprofit AltaSeads Conservancy, the largest aquaculture seed bank in the United States. Like their terrestrial counterparts, aquaculture seed banks are intended to preserve genetic diversity in plant life for the future. AltaSeads also promotes the use of kelp as an easy-to-grow resource.

“It's a super versatile crop,” says scientist Emily Aguirre of AltaSeads, which can provide food for people and livestock while removing carbon from the atmosphere. “It can also be used to fertilize land-based agriculture, and it's great because if you grow it in the ocean you're not taking up land.”

Michael Marty Rivera and Emily Aguirre monitor kelp species in storage tanks at AltaSeads

Michael Marty Rivera and Emily Aguirre of AltaSeads Conservancy monitor kelp species in storage tanks.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Kelp is also a source of algae that reduces methane emissions from cows, Aguirre said, and has many other food uses, including reducing freezer burn in ice cream.

Eco Wave Power, an Israel-based company, will install the first U.S. onshore wave energy testing station on the port's main channel next to AltaSea in the coming months. The system of floats attaches directly to pre-existing structures – such as breakwaters, quays and jetties – and produces energy from the constant movement of the waves. Another AltaSea company, CorPower Ocean, uses buoys and hydraulic pressure to produce energy.

    Rustom Jehangir, founder and CEO of Blue Robotics, demonstrates his BlueROV2

Rustom Jehangir, founder and CEO of Blue Robotics, demonstrates his BlueROV2, a powerful remote-controlled vehicle that can be used for inspections, research and adventures.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The figurative whale for AltaSea so far is Ballard, who settled in the old harbor several years ago and has captured public interest as a deep-sea explorer and scientific researcher. It is his headquarters and home to his research and development.

AltaSea has an array of rooftop solar panels larger than three football fields that generate 2.2 megawatts, enough to power 700 homes annually and more energy than the entire campus will need when it reaches full capacity.

BlueROV2, a powerful remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can be used for inspections, research and adventures,

The BlueROV2 vehicle.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

To finance the shipyard's redevelopment, AltaSea received $29 million from the state, the Port of Los Angeles and private donors. The money was paid for the construction, installation of the solar panels and the future construction of a park.

AltaSea is one of several projects that are part of a two-decade process to clean up the port's air and water and transform unused docks, wharves and warehouses into places where more people want to work or visit, port officials said.

“Bringing people to our waterfront has been a hallmark of the Port of Los Angeles for decades,” Seroka said in 2020, and recent investments “will truly take us to the next level.”

Before the pandemic, about 3 million people came to LA's waterfront for recreation each year, and some port leaders hope to see that double in the coming years. To smooth the path of new development for visitors, the Port of Los Angeles is investing about $1 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next decade, Seroka said. Private developers building AltaSea and other projects will invest an estimated $500 million.

Taylor Marchment shows off 3D concrete printing for sustainable offshore energy

Taylor Marchment, head of manufacturing R&D at RCAM Technologies, shows off 3D concrete printing for sustainable offshore energy.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

One of those projects, Western Harbour, is a long-planned redevelopment of a 42-acre site formerly occupied by Ports O' Call, a kitschy imitation of a New England fishing village built in the 1960s that fell out of favor years ago and was razed to the ground in 2018 made .

The restaurants anchoring the dining, shopping and entertainment district include Yamashiro, the second branch of a Japanese-themed Hollywood destination for locals and tourists. Another large restaurant will have a Mexican theme, with an over-water bar. There will also be a dining room and Bark Social, an off-leash dog park, bar and café. The complex should open next year.

The waterfront developments represent improvements that San Pedro residents have waited decades for, said Dustin Trani, whose family has been in the local restaurant business for nearly a century. The chef opened last year Trani's harbor station, a seafood restaurant located between AltaSea and West Harbor, in part to take advantage of the expected influx of visitors.

“We are on the cusp of a very large economic boom in this area that has not been seen before,” Trani said.

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