As an energy engineering student, I come across a lot of inventions that are about to save the world. At least, if they would ever get further than their inventor’s desk. Sometimes low-tech solutions can have a way bigger impact, simply because they happen. Urban development site de Ceuvel in the up-and-coming Amsterdam Noord area is a gem that exemplifies exactly what I’m talking about.

Sustainable urban development

A couple of years ago, the city of Amsterdam wrote out a competition: find a new destination for de Ceuvel, a heavily polluted patch of land in Amsterdam North that served as a shipyard in a previous life. Architects from space&matter teamed up with sustainability consulting firm Metabolism to design an urban plan with the goal to leave the place cleaner than they found it. They won the competition.  The fact that only two proposals were submitted — the challenge proved to be quite difficult —  does not detract from their victory. The plan was just really cool. With material use and waste recovery as central concepts, a sustainable hub for creative souls and innovators was born.

Old houseboats, which are normally demolished when the owner cannot sell them second-hand, were hauled onshore and refurbished. They now house offices, workshop rooms, and ateliers. Can you imagine working somewhere cooler than working in such a place? I can’t.


To remediate the heavily polluted soil, the urban developers called in the help of the University of Ghent. Using special plants that soak in large amounts of groundwater, the soil is cleaned from the organic and inorganic pollution. Bye heavy metals! For the eager learners under my readers, smart people call this process phytoremediation. The polluted material ends up being concentrated in the biomass. The plants will later be used to make organic concrete in a way that keeps the dangerous compounds locked inside. To avoid contact with the soil, a winding bamboo walkway guides you between the houseboats. It gives the site a unique touch.

Circular economy at its best

They have taken waste recovery pretty serious at the Ceuvel. Did you know that human waste is quite valuable? Oh yes. Your pee ends up in a struvite reactor, the grey water in a biofilter and kitchen waste in a composter. The output of all those processes gets straight into the aquaponic greenhouse, where vegetables and fruit are grown with the help of fish faeces. And the fish itself get their nutrients from your poo and pee. Genious. And where else could those vegetables be used better than in the cosy-with-a-hippy-touch Ceuvel café right next to the greenhouse? If you make a stop at the toilet over there, you have circular economy at its best.

Biogas boat to fire the stoves

The latest expansion of the enthusiastic group of volunteers de Ceuvel can live on, is the so-called biogas boat. They found themselves another old houseboat, which is now being refurbished to become the first floating biogas plant in the world. Food waste from the neighbourhood will be used to produce biogas to fire the stoves in de Ceuvel café. The left-over compost goes to the greenhouse. You can support their project via crowdfunding. If you’re passing by this summer, you might have a chance to make your contribution by helping out on one of the building days (keep an eye on their facebook page).

Cleantech playground

To become completely self-sufficient, hot water and energy is generated via solar panels on the roof. Energy consumption is reduced to a minimum with the help of adequate insulation, energy saving devices and the right mindset of all who have the luck to pass their time at de Ceuvel. The site aims to be both a showcase for the larger public and a cleantech testing ground. Get inspired and bring them a visit next time you’re in Amsterdam. If I didn’t win you over yet then take into consideration that, besides delicious burgers with homegrown lettuce, de Ceuvel café also has lovely beers in store. From a local organic brewery, what did you expect?

Where to find de Ceuvel