Category: Solutions

Photo of the Week: Belgium’s sail trains ride out

In a country that needed six years to reach an agreement in principle on the burden sharing of the efforts to be made to tackle climate change, you wouldn’t expect much inspiring climate change mitigation. The opposite is true. Where the Belgian governments linger, communities and businesses have taken initiatives to start limiting emissions themselves. Last week, such a project entered a new stage: the first sail train rode out.

What? A sail train? No, it is not some kind of cart on rails with a big sail on top of it. The so called sail train is a normal train but fully powered by wind energy, harvested by a wind park stretching along the trajectory between the cities of Liege and Leuven. The project is a collaboration between the railway infrastructure manager InfraBel, the city of Sint-Truiden, energy producer Electrabel and the Brussels electricity distribution company.

"Moving by the wind": the first sail train on the trajectory from Leuven to Liège rode out last week (photo: Electrabel)

“Moving by the wind”: the first sail train on the trajectory from Leuven to Liège rode out last week (photo: Electrabel)

 

The first seven wind turbines have now been taken into service, with another eighteen to be build in the near future. Together they will yield 34 000 MegaWatthour in clean energy and save 15 000 tons of CO2 per year. Two third of the generated electricity will be feeded directly to the trains, one third will be transmitted to the distribution system to be used by households and companies.

When fully operational, around 170 trains will be powered by wind daily. That makes up to around 5% of all train traffic in Belgium. Commuters don’t have to worry: there’s a backup connection with the national electricity grid to keep the trains going on a windless day. There was never more reason to let the car behind and take the train instead!

Sources (Dutch)

deredactie.be
HetLaatsteNieuws

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Photo of the Week: Grabbing power from the air

You’re probably not aware of it, but the air around you is a dense cloud of radio frequency signals. And you’d rather be happy about that: they provide your mobile phone with 3G, your laptop with wifi and your TV with digital broadcast. Without going into details –let’s leave that for a physics class — the signals are electromagnetic waves that carry energy from a sending antenna to a receiver. Imagine you could tap of a little bit of the energy of all the waves bouncing around. That’s exactly what Freevolt does.

According to developer Drayson, Freevolt is the first commercially available technology that extracts energy from the ambient radiosignals. It’s extremely efficient thanks to its simplicity: it consists of only three parts, being an antenna to pick up the power out of the air, a rectifier to turn the alternating current into direct current and a power management module to store and ouptut the electricity.

A demo of the Freevolt technology, powering a small speaker (photo: Sebastian Anthony)

A demo of the Freevolt technology, powering a small speaker (photo: Sebastian Anthony)

You are probably wondering how much energy this neat little device could harvest from the surrounding air. I’ll tell you: around 100 microWatts. That may sound little –it actually is, it would take ages to charge your smartphone with it– yet it is sufficient to power small devices such as smoke detectors, small security camera’s, sensors in fridges, parking lots… basically all small devices that could be part of the internet of things.

Imagine you would never have to worry about charging these devices or changing batteries. Freevolt branded it Perpetual Power for a reason. Yet as an engineer I want to get rid of some misunderstandings here. This technology is freewheeling on existing waves boucing around and since in the future we rather will have more than less of them, it may sound like an infinite power source. Too bad there’s the first law of thermodynamics, which tells us that energy cannot be created (nor destroyed). The Freevolt technology is doing nothing more than extracting some energy from the waves, energy that was invested by the sender to emit the wave in the first place.

A developers kit is available for the geeks to play around with the technology. Dryson also developed the Tag, a small sensor that keeps track of the air pollution around you and gathers the data on an the Cleanspace app on your mobile device. It rewards you when helping to improve the air quality, like leaving the car and taking the bike instead. It’s a nice showcase for their technology and hopes to build awareness on air pollution at the same time.

Sources
OffGridQuest
Freevolt website
CleanSpace app

 

 

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Photo of the Week: Washington’s biggest electricity consumer is now running on poo

Sometimes it does not take as much as fancy electrical SUVs to have a positive impact on the planet. Being the biggest electricity consumer in Washington D.C., the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment plant wanted to lower the environmental burden of their activities. And they didn’t have to look far.

The facility used to treat the wastewater stream in a classical way: it goes though a set of filters to shed the debris, then through a treatment process that seperates the biosolids — the political correct term for poo — from the water. It finally results in 60 truckloads of dump a day that go to landfill.

But since last September, an additional process developed by Norwegian company Cambi and that carries the name thermal hydrolysis is able to produce enough electricity to power 10 500 households or one third of the whole plant’s electricity demand.

View of the thermal hydrolysis installation during construction, with the pulper, reactors and flash tanks in front and the actual digestion silos in the back (photo: PC construction)

View of the thermal hydrolysis installation during construction, with the pulper, reactors and flash tanks in front and the actual digestion silos in the back (photo: PC construction)

 

Via a cooking step, the biosolids that used to go to landfill, are treated and sterilized. In eight-story high tanks they are then digested by microbes to form methane gas. This is burned to drive turbines that generate energy. The total installation has a capacity of 12MW. From poo to power, very nice. The final left-over biosolid is only half the amount it used to be and thanks to the additional processing it is safe to use as fertilizer in agriculture or gardening.

So next time you’re flushing in Washington D.C., bear in mind that you are generating power –kind of. And some of your biosolids could turn up on the shelves of a home garden store. Maybe you turn out to be buying it back. Think about that.

Sources

Washington Post
Cambi

Cover Photo by Dean Hochman 

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Photo of the week: the Sexy Plant

Each of us is carrying residues of pesticides in his or her body. More and more studies link immune system defficiencies, allergies and cancers with the chemicals which enter the human body via crops from non-organic agriculture. Students from the university of Valencia have now come up with an alternative, environmentally-friendly insect pest control method: the Sexy Plant.

Using controlled release of moth sex pheromones, the Sexy Plant causes mating disruption and avoid moth’s offspring. The team designed a genetic switch to turn on the release of pheromones after a solution of a copper-sulfate is sprayed on the plant. They also developed a biosafety module that prevents the plant to spread its genetic matter via pollen, which could eventually lead to an uncontrolled spread of the Sexy Plant itself which would endanger the original crop.

Two developers from the Sexy Plant team presenting their environmentally-friendly insect pest control method (photo: Sexy Plant)

Two developers from the Sexy Plant team presenting their environmentally-friendly insect pest control method (photo: Sexy Plant)

The Sexy Plant team claims that farmers can save up to 40% in insect pest control costs by planting the Sexy Plant between their crops. Plus, the pesticide free product can be sold for a better price. There is also a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, since pesticides have a carbon dioxide footprint of around 3kg per hectare which is avoided when using the Sexy Plant.

Sources

Sexy Plant project page

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Photo of the week: charge while you drive, it’s no sci-fi anymore

The electric vehicle market is still struggling to kick-off. It’s a bit the chicken-and-egg problem. Consumers are held back because of the lack of charging points, companies are not eager to invest in the infrastructure when there is no guarentee it will be used extensively. So that’s the moment governments should help out and that’s exactly what is happening in the UK.

As part of a master plan to get more eletric vehicles (EV’s) on the road, the UK government is investing in a charging network on all major roadways with chargers every 20 miles (32 kilometers). Later this year, a pilot project in wireless charging of electric vehicles will conclude a feasibility study of the technology commissioned by Highways England. If the results are economically viable, the technology will be build out further.

Wireless charging of electric vehicles could soon become reality in the UK (photo: Highways England)

Wireless charging of electric vehicles could soon become reality in the UK (photo: Highways England)

How does this wireless charging work? It’s basically the same technology as used to charge your electric toothbrush or wireless phone charging. Thanks to magnetic induction, an electric current can be induced to charge the vehicle’s batteries when it drives over elektromagnetic plates build into the road. The vehicle can charge its batteries while driving, no need for charging stops anymore. The installation of the elektromagnetic infrastructure is easier than the electrification of a road via overhead cables such as for trams.

The application of induction charging for EV’s is not new. In Gomi in South-Korea for example, two wireless-charged buses ply the train station and Dong-In line. Similar projects exist in Utrecht (the Netherlands) and Torino (Italy). But if the UK decides to build out the technology over its roadway network, we’re talking about a much bigger scale. Exciting times for electric vehicles — and their drivers– ahead!

Sources
fast coexists
wired

Header photo by Mark Turnauckas

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Photo of the week: first airport to go 100% solar

Last week Cochin International airport, the fourth busiest in India, inaugurated its 12 MegaWatt solar power plant near its cargo complex. This move makes them the first airport in the world to run fully on solar power. 46 150 panels spread over an area of around 26 football fields deliver enough energy to cover the airport’s energy demand. During the day surplus electricity is feeded in the national grid, at night the airport taps off what is needed — overall the production will be larger than consumption. The generated power would be enough to electrify around 10 000 households. When compared to a coal power plant, 300 000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved during the next 25 years. That’s equivalent to planting 3 million trees or not driving 750 million miles.

This 12 MWp solar farm will produce enough electricty to make Cochin Airport grid neutral (photo: CIAL/REX Shutterstock)

This 12 MWp solar farm will produce enough electricty to make Cochin Airport grid neutral (photo: CIAL/REX Shutterstock)

The Airport Authority of India (AAI), which operates Cochin and 124 other airports in the country, is planning to build solar farms at about 30 of them. This would add up to 150 MegaWatt installed capacity when completed.

The airport may be the first to go 100% solar, it’s not the first one to go 100% renewable. For example, Baltra airport in the Galapagos Islands runs completely on solar and wind power and during the last rebuilding of the airport 80% of the previous infrastructure was recycled.

Sources
Cochin International Airport press release
CleanTechnica

Cover photo by Andrei Dimofte

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