Tagged: renewable energy

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)



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.


Washington Post

Cover Photo by Dean Hochman 


Photo of the week: Did Elon Musk just start a new revolution?

Last Thursday, Elon Musk presented the heavily-anticipated Powerwall – Tesla’s scalable battery which Musk believes could revolutionize the way we consume, produce and store energy. The largest barriers today for solar and wind power are the well-known villains: sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day, nor does the wind blow whenever we would like it to. For years, scientists and engineers are searching furiously for a solution to store renewable energy to match electricity production from renewable sources with electricity demand at every given moment. Batteries, hydrogen storage, compressed air storage… many scenarios are being investigated at the moment and no-one found a decent cost-effective solution, yet. And then came Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and other ambitious companies. No surprise his keynote last Thursday has been followed with enormous interest.

The Powerwall is a lithium-ion battery starting from 7kWh at 3000$, but is infinitely scalable which means it both targets families and companies. Musk believes Powerwall makes it possible to go off-grid, which means families or companies become fully self-sufficient via a combination of renewable energy generation and storage with one or more Powerwall devices. But what is the real innovation behind the Powerwall? That’s a bit unclear up till now. Besides the fact the battery is cheap thanks to the Gigafactory that will build them, it is still good’ol lithium-ion technology. And going off-grid is easier said than done. Keeping a local grid at the right frequency (50Hz in Europe, 60Hz in US) is not easy. It is vital though for correct operation of computers, domestic electronics as well as industrial machines. For now, it seems people are willing to give it a try: 5 days after Musk’s keynote he announced they reached a total of 38 000 pre-orders.

Elon Musk presenting Tesla's Powerwall

Elon Musk presenting Tesla’s Powerwall



Tesla’s Powerwall official website

The Verge

Watch Musk’s keynote