A historical climate conference has just begun– this is what’s at stake

Today the long-anticipated climate conference will take off on Paris. Also known as COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties, the climate talks are decisive for the future of our planet and all lucky enough to enjoy what she has to offer. What would a successful outcome look like? Is there any hope we will get there after two weeks of negotiations? A look into the future.

“We are the first generation that can end poverty and we are the last generation that can end climate change.”  –Ban Ki-Moon

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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.

Sources

bigbelly.com

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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.

Sources

LifeStraw’s website

The Water Project

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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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