Category: Photo of the week

During the first year of blogging, I posted a picture with a story every week. I currently put the series on hold to focus on longer in-depth articles.

ReGen: the Tesla of eco-villages

Artist's impression of a ReGen village (photo: EFFEKT/ReGen)

What is the first thing you think about when you hear the term eco-village? Could it be that you envision a hippy-like commune, where people pass their days smoking pod and milking the cows? Then the ReGen village concept will surprise you. Envisioned by Harvard professor and tech-entrepreneur James Ehrlich and developed in collaboration with Danish architects bureau EFFEKT, this futuristic community concept went viral last year at the Biennale in Venice. It’s more than just some naive dreams: the first village is already under construction in Almere, a polder village 25 minutes from Amsterdam.

Artist’s impression of the neighborhood gardens (photo: EFFEKT/ReGen)



The sky is the limit: Lilium’s electric flying taxi

So you thought Tesla’s electric cars are revolutionary? Ha! Electric cars are no longer the coolest kid in school. Airbus and a bunch of start-ups are fervently working on electric, zero-emission, airplanes for personalized transportation. They all share a similar dream: getting you as fast and comfortable as possible from point A to B, through the air. One of these start-ups is Munich-based Lilium, which completed their maiden voyage earlier this month.

Lilium’s fully electric jet (photo: Lilium)



Photo of the Week: the Rain maker

We write December 2015, with the new year around the corner. Yet, still 780 million people around the world have no access to clean and safe drinking water. That is 1 out of 9! Since many communities life at or near the shore, the vast amount of seawater nearby plead to be turned into the source of life. Until now various machines have been proposed to take the salt out of seawater. This desalination process happens to be expensive, both money and energy wise.

The best solutions to difficult problems are often found in nature. Same goes for the Rain Maker, the desalination machine that mimics the natural water cycle. It heats seawater until it vaporises. The water vapour is taken into another compartment to be distilled. Then the steam is cooled down and turns into water again. Via a smart design, most of the heat is recuperated.

Prototype of the Rain Maker. It turns seawater in drinking water in a matter of minutes (photo: Billions in Change)

Prototype of the Rain Maker. It turns seawater in drinking water in a matter of minutes (photo: Billions in Change)

No membranes or filters are used, making the device able to run on its own for months without human intervention. A machine the size of a small car can make more than 3500 litres of water an hour.

By building small units that can be mass produced, the price is reduced enormously. Depending on the specific needs, more or less Rain Makers can be combined. This makes a desalination machine finally cost effective. Current massive plants are designed case by case and just cost too much money. The builders of Rain Maker even propose to build a ship full of their desalinators. When a coastal area faces a water crisis, the ship rushes to the spot and can start producing clean drinking water straight away and pump it to the shore.


Showcased in Billions in Change documentary


Photo of the Week: climate activism gets really creative this time

photo: Avaaz

If by now you don’t know that something really big is happening in Paris, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last few months. Yes, I’m talking about COP21, the long-anticipated climate summit. For more than a year, organisations around the world have been mobilizing for climate actions on the 28th and 29th of November to sent a strong signal to world leaders at the start of the event. Indeed, around the world thousands of people took it to the streets to march, sing and dance for the climate. But in the epicenter of the talks, the Paris’ climate march was forbidden in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks nearly three weeks ago.

Fair enough, you say. Safety first. But I was in Paris last weekend and what I saw and learnt from the people there was another story. The Christmas market on the Champs-Elysées was no problem to secure. All football matches are being played. No problems whatsoever. Last year a massive manifestation with more than 50 world leaders ahead marched through the streets of Paris to pay tributes to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Not a single issue for the French police back then. But now the authorities claim they can not guarantee the safety of public events related to the climate summit. In the meantime they have enough policemen to conduct house searches in climate activist workshops and putting people under house arrest without any reason  –which they don’t need right now by the way. Officially there is still a state of emergency in which the French police doesn’t need permissions for house searches etc, thanks to a law that was voted shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack last year. How convenient.

Thousands of shoes were placed on the Place de la Républic after the climate march was forbidden (photo: Avaaz)

Thousands of shoes were placed on the Place de la République after the climate march was forbidden (photo: Avaaz)

Anyway, if the French authorities really thought they could stop a climate activists so easily, they were wrong. Several creative actions popped up. If the people cannot march, the shoes will march for them; that was the idea behind the silent march. Thousands pairs of shoes filled the Place de la République in Paris, including one of Pope Francis and Ban Ki-Moon. A human chain stretched along the original route of the march; as long as people stay on the pavement organizers don’t need official permission. Activist group Brandalism was so bold to replace advertisements in the streets of Paris with their own version of ads for big polluting companies who sponsor the climate conference. You see, the climate movement is clearly not intimidated. More creative actions are under way for week 2 of the talks.


Photo of the Week: bins with Brains

photo courtesy: Getty Images

When I was walking trough the streets of Prague some months ago, I stumbled upon something interesting. I noticed that the wastebins in the old city centre have solar panels. It turns out that Prague choose an increasingly popular solution for waste management: the Bigbelly.

Historically, gut feeling and experience were used to figure out when to sent out teams for emptying the wastebins. With the Bigbelly solution, this has changed. The award-winning technology offers a novel and smart way of organising waste collection and recycling in cities, corporations and campuses. With a fleet of smart waste bins, it’s possible to optimise the collection schedule to asure wastebins are never overloaded, nor emptied too early. The smart wastebins are remotely connected with the cloud and deliver real-time data about their fullness. All the data is brought together in an online tool which helps to schedule the best collection timing and route. This saves a lot of fuel and labour time.

The BigBelly is a solar-powered and smart waste bin, revolutionising waste collection in cities and campuses (photo: city of Santa Clarita)

The BigBelly is a solar-powered and smart waste bin, revolutionising waste collection in cities and campuses (photo: city of Santa Clarita)

But there is more. The solar-powered wastebins also compact the litter so it can hold up to five times more garbage in comparison with a traditional system. The enclosed design keeps bad smell out and makes sure animals cannot get in.

The waste bins’ side panels are the perfect place to communicate with people about the benefits of recycling or other sustainable solutions in the community. This way, the ugly waste bin of the past is turned into a smart recycling station and communication platform. It’s a big win for everyone: it saves money, encourages recycling, conserves fuel, frees up labour, keeps out the pests and eliminates waste overflow. You see, building a smart city sometimes starts with the small things.



Photo of the Week: the straw that saved a thousand lives (so far)

The original LifeStraw (photo: LifeStraw)

I have showcased quite some extraordinary innovations in the Photo of the Week series so far. Maybe you get the feeling that in order to save the world, we need complicated and expensive technology. But sometimes it are simple things that can have the biggest impact. Brought to the market in 2005, LifeStraw has saved thousands of lives with their innovative product. And it will keep doing so in the future.

Knowing that 1 in 5 deaths of young children is directly related to a water-related disease, the LifeStraw truly deserves its name.  It filters out 99.9% of waterborne bacteria and 99.9 of waterborne protozoa and has saved thousands of lives since it was invented. It was originally designed for people in developing countries who don’t have water piped in from municipal sources or other access to safe water. It also comes to help in emergency situations following natural disasters when water is contaminated. Backpackers, campers and travelers alike are thankful users as well.

The community version of Vestergaard's life-saving filter technology is bringing clean drinking water to schools in Kenya (photo: LifeStraw)

The community version of Vestergaard’s life-saving filter technology is bringing clean drinking water to schools in Kenya (photo: LifeStraw)

The product shines in its simplicity. The plastic straw contains a filter containing no chemicals whatsoever. It is able to turn 1000 liters of contaminated water into drinking water. No need for electricity, batteries or replacement parts. In fact, it’s such a simple product that chances are low that it will ever break down. No surprise it got Time Magazine’s award for best invention of the year in 2005.

After the successful introduction of the original LifeStraw, inventor Vestergaard came up with other variants. The lifestraw family can support a household and the LifeStraw Community was designed as a high-volume filter for schools and clinics with a lack of safe drinking water.

Are you a fervent hiker, backpacker or camper? Do consider buying a LifeStraw. For each straw sold in the Western world, the Follow the Litres campaign will provide clean drinking water to an African child for a whole school year. It will not only save you some nasty travel sickness, but also others’ lives.


LifeStraw’s website

The Water Project