Category: Solutions

Sundrop farms turns desert into tomato factory

photo: eSolar

If you are a traditional farmer, you’ll need water and energy to grow your produce. And you’ll need lots of it. The challenge is that they are finite resources that are becoming ever scarcer. Our solution? Not to use them!

Sundrop’s website bulges of this kind of statements. It is clear that the South Australia-based farm is pretty proud of their achievements over the last six years. In cooperation with an international team of scientists, they developed a commercial farm that runs on solar power and seawater. Yes, you read that right: they are producing tomatoes with just salt water from the nearby Spencer Gulf and the energy captured by a solar power plant.



8 ideas for a sustainable dorm room

It is back-to-school time. All over the world, students return to their college or university dorms and student flats. For many young people, it is the first time to live on their own and what could be a better moment to adapt a sustainable lifestyle? It all begins with your dorm room itself. Below you find a list of 8 things to keep in mind when choosing, decorating and living in your new dorm room. I put it in a nice visual format for you, because your professors will bombard you with dull papers soon enough. I collected some websites to get you started, so be sure to check out the links I listed below the infographic. Do you have other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below! And of course, all those tips are equally applicable for any other place you call home and for those who passed their school-desk era. And don’t forget: moving to a new place is supposed to be exciting, so experiment, explore and have fun!




Brushed up Einstein invention wins James Dyson award

photo: University of Loughborough

Loyal readers of my blog know I am a big fan of technological inventions that shine in their simplicity and have a big impact at the same time. Among the many solutions that have been showcased earlier on The Shift, the Lifestraw is one of my favourites. Being cheap and simple, it can potentially save thousands if not millions of lives by providing clean drinking water in developing countries or regions hit by severe weather events. But… I have found a strong competitor: an off-grid portable refrigerator to stransport vaccins safely to the final destination in developing countries. And I am not the only one who seems to like it; recently its inventor received the prestigious UK James Dyson award.



Students help Elon Musk’s dream become reality

If he wasn’t already, Elon Musk is rapidly becoming the rock star of all technology addicts. You might think that spending tons of his personal fortune to found electrical car company Tesla and aerospace company SpaceX would be enough, but Musk wouldn’t be Musk if he wasn’t always working on something new and exciting.

Back in 2013 he published a 57-page long white paper with the proposal of Hyperloop Alpha, a futuristic transport system that should bring people in no time from LA to San Fransisco at a speed of 700 miles per hour (more than 1100 km/h). He later admitted that it was the terrible LA traffic that brought him to think about a revolutionary new way of transportation.

The white-paper was not a business proposal, Musk rather threw the idea in the tech community in the hope someone would start doing something with it. Despite the fact that many people were quite skeptical about the idea, two start-ups have started to work on their own version of the Hyperloop.

Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment. — Elon Musk

This is more or less the idea. The Hyperloop is a new high-speed ground transport system that consists of a tube on (earthquake resistant) pylons that connects two major cities. A pod is racing at a speed of more than 700 miles per hour through the tube, reducing the duration of a trip from for example LA to San Fransisco to just 30 minutes. In order to reach such high speeds, the tube would be at under-pressure to reduce friction with the air. The pod would be floating on an air cushion and be accelerated by magnetic induction. The whole system is supposed to be driven by solar panels on the top of the tube. Pretty neat, huh?

With a price tag of 6 billion dollars, the system would be cheaper than the high speed train that is currently being built on the track Musk had in mind in his original proposal.

Elon Musk's original Hyperloop Alpha proposal in 2013

Elon Musk’s original Hyperloop Alpha proposal in 2013 (photo: Elon Musk)

The whole idea remained a bit under the radar of the larger public, until SpaceX announced a Hyperloop pod design competition for students last summer. The reaction was huge. Within one week, no less than 700 entries were submitted and this number grew to 1 751 by the time the registration closed the 15th of September.

A few weeks ago, 123 selected teams got the chance to present their designs at Texas A&M University. The stakes were high: the best implementations won a test ride of their pod on the (still under-construction) test track near the SpaceX’s headquarters. MIT ran away with the first price, a team from TU Delft in the Netherlands were next runner-up. In total twenty-two teams are awarded a test trip next summer to try-out their design.

With this competition the Hyperloop comes a bit closer to reality. “The public wants something new,” Musk told the participants at the end of the competition. “And you’re going to give it to them.”

Will we be travelling in from Amsterdam to Paris in no time soon? Well, probably not. The competition is in the first place an opportunity for engineering students to show off what they got and stimulate the discussion on future transportation. Musk didn’t promise to invest in one of the ideas, although he hinted that it was not unlikely to happen in the future. “There are a lot of crazy ideas out there, but when ideas are associated with someone like Elon Musk it feels like, OK, this is something,” told Anshuman Kumar, leader of the Hyperloop team at Carnegie Mellon University to Bloomberg. So who knows… Elon Musk never stops surprising us. And this time he has the next generation of engineers on board!


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