Interview: Electric buses are booming in Poland

Most people wouldn’t have guessed it, but there is no other European country where electric buses for public transport are as popular as they are in Poland. An important reason for this is that Poland is itself a large manufacturer of electric buses. It is estimated that about a third of all electric buses in Europe are manufactured in Poland.

Primus inter pares is bus and tramway manufacturer Solaris. Which is heading for a market share of about 20% on the European continent this year. Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus also make electric buses in Poland.

Innovation Origins had an interview with the head of e-mobility development at Solaris, Mateusz Figaszewski:

Solaris is one of the biggest European electric bus producers. How many of these buses are going to the local Polish market?

The number of electric vehicles that Solaris delivers to Polish customers changes from year to year. Altogether, our company has delivered over 360 battery vehicles to customers in 18 European countries, including 119 in Poland.

Furthermore we have over 500 orders for our electric Urbino buses, of which 194 will be delivered to local Polish customers in 2019 and 2020.

Which Polish cities are using your E-buses and how many electric buses are there in Poland?

The cities in Poland where our battery vehicles can be found are: Inowrocław, Jaworzno, Kraków, Ostrołęka, Warszawa, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Września, Chodzież, Katowice, Sosnowiec, Stalowa Wola, Ciechanów, Rzeszów, Ostróda, Bełchatów, Łomianki. Other cities with vehicles on order are: Kutno, Miechów, Poznań, Radom, Tychy and Włocławek.

The E-bus market in Poland is comprised of 155 vehicles at the moment, 119 of them have been manufactured by Solaris. Another 254 units are on order, 194 of which are from Solaris.

Mateusz Figaszewski

What can we expect in the next few years where electrification of public transport is concerned?

The aim of the European Commission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 by at least 60% before now and 2050. One of the ways to achieve this is to transform and electrify the European transportation sector, including urban public transport.

In line with that target, 50 European cities have already signed the “Clean Bus Deployment Initiative” – a declaration of intent on promoting large-scale deployment of clean, alternatively fueled buses. Many of these European cities have opted for electric buses.

The European electric bus fleet has already increased nearly 15-fold over the past 5 years. Still, we are convinced that we will see a further increase in the volume of orders. According to estimations from the ZeEUS program from UITP, 22% of all new bus registrations in 2020 will be electric and this number will continue to rise up to 45% by 2030.

The rest of the bus fleet will be at least partially electric driven or based for instance on hydrogen.

How important are European subsidies for the transition to environmentally friendly buses?

European and local subsidies from European Member States are crucial for maintaining the speed of market growth. Without them, many customers could face difficulties in securing budgets for the procurement of zero-emission vehicles. This is especially important nowadays as the technology is still relatively new. Therefore that makes it more expensive in the deployment phase than is the case for combustion vehicles.

Once we manage to achieve a scale-effect with higher order volumes, the prices for individual customers will also start to be more and more affordable.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that as a supplier we also see a growing interest in electric vehicles from private transport operators who are not subject to government subsidies. Running on electricity is cheaper than diesel.

What is Solaris’s market share in the European electric bus market?

The market share for Solaris in 2018 was 17%. This put our company in 2nd place in Europe with the United Kingdom included. However, if we take just the European mainland into account, last year we ended up as the market leader.

As 2019 is still underway, we are unable to give an exact number. We did however secure over 20% of orders placed for electric buses this year in Europe.

One problem in Poland is that electric buses need power and this power still largely comes from (dirty) coal. When do you think this will change?

First of all this is a question that should be addressed to policy makers. But as far we can see, all of the political parties in Poland, including the leading party, are aware of the need for decarbonization of different branches of industry, including the energy sector.

The pace at which this will be introduced is, however, very hard to estimate. As the country’s leading manufacturer of an ecological means of public transport, we strongly support any activities geared towards the transition to reusable sources of energy and making our energy sector more efficient and sustainable.

Poland is slowly saying goodbye to its reputation as the dirty man of Europe

This is the first part of a series about the measures that Poland is taking against environmental pollution and global warming. Tomorrow, part two will be devoted to the transition to electric buses in public transport.

The sight of the Belchatów brown coal power station is both forbidding and impressive. A huge hole several tens of meters deep and kilometers wide stretches out in front of the power station. The plant spits out thick clouds of smoke day and night. Everything in the hole is dead. Except for the gigantic trucks that are constantly driving back and forth between the quarry and the power station. The area around Belchatów is regularly shrouded in mist and the smell around the power station intensifies in winter thanks to the numerous households in the area that are still kept warm with old-fashioned multi-burners.

It should come as no surprise that the power station in Belchatów was regularly criticized at the climate summit in Katowice last year. Belchatów is the world’s largest brown coal power station. And it is the greatest, single emitter of carbon dioxide in the EU, with more than 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year. It is also one of the reasons why Poland is often called the dirty man of Europe.

The fact that Poland depends on coal and brown coal for almost 80% of its electricity is a thorn in the side of Brussels. Even worse, it is felt that Warsaw is also not prepared to abandon its dependence on coal. The furthest Poland has been willing to go so far, is to reduce its dependence on coal by roughly 50% by 2040. The government deems anything more than that to be too expensive. Poland therefore has declined to sign the EU protocol on the supply of CO2-neutral energy by 2050. Just as the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary are also refusing.

The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland

This intractable attitude towards Brussels could give the impression that nothing at all is happening in Poland with regard to improving the environment. But that is not true. In a series devoted to environmental and climate measures, Innovation Origins will show that Poland is even ahead of the rest of Europe in some respects.

Read also: Coal Curtain replaces the Iron Curtain

For a start, the figures reveal that we, as The Netherlands, ought to be cautious in our criticism. Because of its high energy consumption per capita, The Netherlands emits more CO2 than Poland does. In 2017, Poland accounted for 319 million tonnes and the Netherlands for 175 million tonnes. In per capita terms, that amounted to 8.4 tonnes of CO2 per Polish person and more than 10 tonnes for one Dutch person. So the situation in Poland is not that dire after all.

When multi-burners are used during winter, nitrogen oxide emissions rise in Polish villages and towns, particularly in the south. Photo Maurits Kuypers

Also, the right-wing populist government PiS party seems to be realizing that doing nothing about climate policy is no longer an option either. For example, the government recently announced that with Michal Kurtyka, a special minister for climate issues has been appointed. While the conservative pro-coal minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski has since vanished from the cabinet.

And last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in Parliament: “Conventional energy sources will remain important for our energy system for a long time to come, but the situation is changing. There was a time when we couldn’t afford to invest in renewable energy sources. But now we can’t afford not to invest in them.”

Societal change

But the most important thing is that Polish society is changing. Nature and environmental policies are becoming increasingly important. The most noticeable change over the last few years was the increase in the number of protests against the extremely high levels of fine particles (smog) during winter months.

Last year, the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimated that 44,000 people in Poland die prematurely from poor air quality every year. Living in Warsaw for a year would be equivalent to smoking 1000 cigarettes. No wonder that the purchase of air masks was one of the biggest sales successes last year.

The response to this criticism is still a little slow at government level. The scheme to replace old multi-burners in houses with new ones is going rather sluggishly. Even though on paper as much as €25 billion has been made available for it.

Smog cities take steps towards banning multi-burners

The situation is different in municipalities and towns. In Krakow (long known as smog city number 1) multi-burners that emit too many fine particles and nitrogen oxide were banned this year. Other cities are also taking steps in this direction. Most experts therefore expect that the problem with the old polluting multi-burners – by far the most important cause of fine particles – should be solved in the not too distant future.

Another reason for optimism about air quality is the rapid deployment of electric buses. According to Solaris Bus & Coach (a local manufacturer of buses and trams from Bolechowo, a suburb in Poznan), there are already 16 cities with battery-operated buses. This is a win-win situation for Poland, as most of the E-buses come from their home country. In addition to Solaris, electric buses are also being manufactured in Poland by Volvo, Scania, MAN and Rafako E-Bus.

The Solaris factory, Photo Maurits Kuypers

Companies for a cleaner environment

Companies aren’t just standing still either. Press agency Reuters reported this month that 20 major companies have signed up to the EU targets for CO2 neutrality by 2050. In defiance of the Warsaw government. Among them are the PKN Orlen refinery and PKO Bank Polski, both state-owned. The Polish subsidiary of the ING Bank has also signed. As have subsidiaries of the French company Orange (telecom) and the German company Innogy (chemistry).

“Of course, we will not achieve the goal of climate neutrality overnight. However, it is important that we take immediate action,” says the Charter of the 20 companies. Deputy Director of ING Bank Śląski Joanna Erdman told Reuters that signing this document is a very natural step for the bank. ING was also one of the first lenders who refused to continue financing new coal projects.

Erdman: “At the moment, the discussion in Poland revolves around whether we ought to endorse the CO2 targets. When it should actually be about how we want to achieve that.”

As I said, this message from companies is slowly but surely beginning to resonate with the government in Warsaw. For instance, after parliamentary elections in October, the energy plan for 2040 has been partially amended in favor of the environment. For one thing, according to the old plans, all onshore windmills were supposed to disappear. That’s because they were considered too unsightly. Now the aim is to keep capacity at about the same level.

Onshore windmills are not very popular in Poland. Photo Expresselblag/Pixabay

Gigawatts on the rise

Warsaw wants to make a decisive leap forward as far as solar energy is concerned. This year, the 1 gigawatt threshold will be exceeded for the first time. A further 15 gigawatts will be needed over the coming 20 years. The VAT on solar panels has been reduced. And an incentive fund of € 235 million has been set up for private individuals as well.

The government foresees slightly slower development when it comes to offshore wind energy. Poland prefers to wait until this technology becomes cheaper before investing heavily in it. Expectations are that this will happen after 2025.

Lastly, Prime Minister Morawiecki sees an important role for “clean” nuclear energy as an alternative to coal. Poland is one of the few countries in Eastern Europe that does not yet have a nuclear power station. That will nevertheless have to change by 2033. Warsaw states that nuclear reactors are an important alternative to coal-fired power stations. This is because they are ‘adaptable’. Which basically means that they can be cranked up at night when the wind isn’t blowing. Or in winter when there is hardly any sun. That will ensure that there is never a shortage of electricity.

Independence from Russia

There is something that plays a role in the background to all these plans for 2040. And that’s the desire to become independent of energy from arch enemy Russia as soon as possible. Alongside nuclear energy, the import of liquid natural gas (LNG) serves as an alternative to Russian coal and gas.

The electricity plan for 2020 and 2040 currently looks like this:

The electricity plan for 2020 and 204020202040
Brown coal8,6 gigawatt3,4 gigawatt
Coal15,6 gigawatt7,6 gigawatt
Gas and cogeneration2,4 gigawatt12,4 gigawatt
Onshore windmills9,5 gigawatt9,8 gigawatt
Offshore windmills08 gigawatt
Solar panels1,3 gigawatt16 gigawatt
Nuclear energy04 gigawatt

 

Start-up of the Day: 4 students break the Dutch deadlock on the electric scooter

Four school friends went off to Valencia for a study trip in April this year. They all jumped on an electric scooter for the first time in their lives and think: “Wow, this is fun. That’s what we need in the Netherlands too.” Half a year later they are the ones who break the deadlock around the introduction of the scooter in the Netherlands.

The first scooters have been on the road in Tilburg since November 1st. It’s Waalwijk turn next year. The first target is about 400 rental scooters by the end of next year. And after that? Who knows. The Netherlands is big and so is the world.

The story of Hannes van Bellen, Teun Verschuren, Mike Meeusen and Thomas van Heeswijk is almost too good to be true. A youthful dream with American allure. They set up a start-up within six months which also turned out to be successful. Respect!

Four boys from Breda

As already mentioned, it started in April with a study trip as a part of their Entrepreneurship & Retail Management course at the Avans University of Applied Sciences in Breda, says Hannes Van Bellen. Who, besides Citysteps, is also busy with setting up the Fruit Pause company. They had an amazingly fun day there with the e-scooters and thought “this is bound to be a success in the Netherlands too.”

They just didn’t realize how much opposition there was to these scooters. This was due to the Stint tragedy in Oss that cost four children their lives after a train accident with an electric wagon. Since that horrendous debacle with the Stint in 2018, new electric vehicles have to comply with much stricter safety requirements. This is compounded by the fact that many Dutch cities are reluctant to allow scooters to dart about in their city centers.

However, the four boys from Breda didn’t allow themselves to be discouraged. “In spite of all the rules, we decided to buy a container full of scooters, even if only for private individuals in other countries.” The container is gradually emptying out, but the scooter is still not allowed on the road in the Netherlands.

What did you do then?

Van Bellen: We had a few good contacts with a few entrepreneurs in Tilburg who were eager to help us. Like Jaap van Ham from the rooftop bar Doloris in Tilburg. Then when we went looking for a scooter that was in line with the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (RDW) regulations. Strangely enough, we ended up with a company through that very same RDW, who managed to design the exact kind of scooter we wanted. Subsequently, contact was quickly established and the ball started rolling.

What is so special about this scooter?

The main differences can be found in the design which uses bicycle handlebars and larger wheels than scooters in other European cities. This benefits both safety and comfort as well as insurance coverage. Moreover, the scooters are only able to travel up to 20 km/h, which is relatively low compared to the scooters from competitors like Lime, Tier and Bird.

Meanwhile, you’ve already made a start in Tilburg. How is that working out?

We’ve now started out with 20 scooters that are mainly for recreational use. You can order them as an all-day package from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm. The costs are €49.50 for the scooter plus coffee, cake, lunch and a drink in the rooftop bar Doloris at the Tilburg Central Station.

What is your goal in Tilburg?

We hope to have expanded to 200 scooters within a year and a few extra collection points besides Doloris.

And Waalwijk?

The main difference with Tilburg is that we are targeting the business user more in Waalwijk, at least in the beginning. The goal is the same. Start small and then within a year get as many as 200 scooters. We think that there is more than enough market potential for this, what with large companies like Bol.com nearby.

And are there other cities where you want to start working in?

Certainly. I can’t name names, but we are in discussions with a few cities. What we ultimately want is a national network. We have great ambitions, but please give us a bit of time. After all, we’re just getting started!

Read moreStart-up of the Day: 4 students break the Dutch deadlock on the electric scooter

Best read: Trial-and-error with self-driving buses

The first presentation of the Alexander Dennis Enviro200 bus back in March already attracted a great deal of interest. Several videos of this autonomous bus were circulated on the internet. It is not the size of a slow moving minibus, but that of a real full-size city bus. The accelerator can be stepped on up to 80 km/h. Yet it was still a trial within a safe environment, without obstacles, on the way to the street where car wash services are located.

The project has since progressed a step further. In Birmingham, the vehicle demonstrated that it can avoid real obstacles and people. The bus has been deemed: “fit for service.” The municipality of Edinburgh where the bus – (in fact there are actually five of them) – will run next year from the Scottish capital to Fife, on the other side of the river Forth. It was the most read story on our website this week.

That’s not all that surprising. Self-driving buses are hip. Projects with these means of transport, most of which are electric, are spreading like wildfire. The USA and Singapore are leading the way, according to a recent KPMG report. But Europe is catching up: Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Tallinn, Helsinki, Drimmelen. These are all places where trials were started this year.

But in the meantime there is also a lot of discussion about the practicality and necessity of these buses which cost several millions. The project in Scotland, for example, is receiving £4.35 million in funding. A project in Berlin that was started in August across a distance of about half a kilometer, together with a few other projects, costs more than €4 million. Are they worth it?

A spokesman for the Berlin public transport company BVG considers ‘the Seemeile Project’ to be a great success. “More than 7,000 passengers have already traveled with it and the residents in the area are happy with it,” says Markus Falkner. The problem is that the 7000 passengers were mostly ‘Schaulustige’  – sightseers who could just as well have walked all the way to the Tegeler See.

We mentioned earlier that this also applies to a similar project in Drimmelen that cost €200,000. This involved around 500 passengers, most of whom were sightseers. A project in Paris that was launched with a lot of fuss in 2017 was discontinued for this very same reason. During the first six months, there were around 30,000 people who were willing to take a ride. After that – when the novelty had faded away – it dropped to less than a thousand per month. They pulled the plug this year in August.

A bus from the Navya company like the one that was driving around Paris

And the costs are not the sole problem. A project in Vienna has shown that. Like other self-driving buses, the vehicles from the French company Navya drove here at a snail’s pace of no more than 12 km/h. Nevertheless, it was still possible to drive into someone. Admittedly, that person was completely irresponsible. Wearing headphones and looking at her mobile phone, she herself drove into the bus. Yet it was enough to put a halt to the project.

Another trial in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, was suspended due to hardware and software problems. It shows the long way to go before affordable and safe autonomous buses are on public roads, and are also of real practical use to people who simply need to travel from A to B.

Is that a reason to stop working on these altogether? Of course not. It will probably take years before self-driving buses become commonplace. But something is learned with each project. The major leap forward when it comes to the buses that will be running in Scotland, is that they are big and fast. There are also many commuters on the road between Fife and Edinburgh. Therefore, they have the potential of serving a functional purpose.

It remains to be seen whether this will work in practice. It is a matter of trial and error for all the scientists, companies and governments involved, says the CEO of Stagecoach, the owner of the buses in Scotland. Ceo Martin Griffiths calls it a great learning process. He emphasizes that this is a pilot. However, if you look at the long term, self-driving buses will play a significant role. There is no doubt about that. For our senior readers: Barrie Stevens would say to candidates in the Dutch Soundmix Show: “Vooral doorgaan!” (‘Keep going!”)

German minister sees a bright future for natural gas

“Gas is sexy!” With these rather remarkable words, the German Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier opened a meeting in Berlin last week intended to mark the culmination of months of dialogue between the Ministry and industry on the future of natural gas.

Natural gas  you say? Isn’t that the fossil fuel that we in the Netherlands are hoping to get rid of as soon as possible because of its high CO2 emissions? And didn’t we read in the latest budget report that higher taxes are going to be set in order to discourage its use?

It would appear that Germany has a different view on this. Altmaier even sees a “bright future” for gas, that’s what he told the audience. Until 2030, he expects the demand for natural gas to increase rather than decrease. “Natural gas will serve as a bridge technology for many years to come. After that, demand will decrease. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the gas industry – “because by then, we’ll be well on our way to the hydrogen world”.

First, ten more years full of natural gas and then gradually make the switch to hydrogen gas. That’s the scenario that Altmaier has envisioned in the hope that Germany will become number one in the field of hydrogen technology.

Lobby

It is a development that will undoubtedly be viewed with a certain amount of concern within environmental circles. After all, although gas is cleaner than oil and coal, it is still a fossil fuel.

However, the gas industry is welcoming this development. Large companies such as Exxon Mobil and Nordstream have been lobbying hard in recent months to give natural gas a prominent place in the “Energiewende” – the German term for the transition to a low-CO2 energy system. And that seems to be working, if Altmaier’s words are any indication.

The Hindenburg Zeppelin: The Germans previously had grand plans for hydrogen. That went badly wrong.

Five arguments in favor of natural gas

For instance, Exxon Mobil issued a bulletin in August listing the five reasons why natural gas should play an important role in the energy transition in Germany and Europe. After all, it is not solely Germany that is struggling with the transition to sustainable energy. The new EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen has also promised to come up with an ambitious “European Green Deal” as soon as possible (within 100 days) to ensure that energy supplies will all be CO2-neutral by 2050.

Exxon Mobil’s five points are certainly not surprising. They are all arguments that are heard elsewhere:

  1. Germany produces just 180 Terrawatt hours of green electricity, despite the fact that it has a relatively large number of windmills and solar panels. That’s only a fraction of the annual energy consumption of 2500 Terrawatt hours. It will take some time before this gap can be closed. Therefore, grey energy (as in fossil fuels) is needed to cover this.
  2. Natural gas qualifies as the first option. It is a good alternative to coal because 60% less CO2 is released during its combustion. And it is also much more environmentally friendly than petroleum, which is still used by a quarter of German households.
  3. Even if we were to have much more green energy, the power grid is not yet prepared for that. Companies like the Dutch Tennet are working hard on improving this, but that takes time. Most experts estimate that it could take years before the required capacity is reached. For instance, in order to transport massive amounts of wind energy from the North Sea to industrial companies in southern Germany. This is also where gas is an obvious alternative, because gas pipelines are ubiquitous.
  4. Natural gas is multifunctional. It can be used for cooking. For warming up your house. You can fill up the tank of your car or a bus with it, and it can be used to generate electricity.
  5. Natural gas can initially be used to produce hydrogen (see the end of this article). At least until other (cleaner) technologies are available.

 

Corporate and political interests

These are all plausible arguments on their own. Nevertheless, there are a few drawbacks. First of all, it sounds like an advertising campaign. Which it is, of course. There are huge interests at stake for the energy industry. For Koninklijke Olie (Royal Dutch Oil) in the Netherlands, for example, one of the largest gas producers in the world.  Or for the German car industry, which would love to sell more LPG cars for several more years. One might well wonder if the promotion of gas as a bridge technology is not just a way of postponing the transition to green energy.

The same can be said about the politics. Don’t forget that the gas economy has major political interests. Look, for example, at the dispute between Germany and the USA over the construction of Nordstream 1 and 2, two gas pipelines on the bottom of the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany, where a lot of money has been invested. This quarrel has everything to do with political power and national economic interests. After all, gas brings in a lot of money for governments.

When it comes to green energy, the situation is slightly different. More sustainable energy can also lead to higher electricity prices and yellow shirt protests. Electorally, therefore, gas has its advantages over the often more expensive green alternatives.

Nordstream is a pipeline project that the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been working on for years. It transports Russian gas via Germany to the rest of Europe. The largest shareholder is Gazprom, but the Dutch Gasunie also has an interest.

All the more reason for ‘climate warriors’ to distrust the gas lobby. This is certainly true if the lobby argues that it is a bridge technology which will lead to a sustainable hydrogen technology. As yet, this technology is non-existent.

Skeptics wonder whether the whole ‘gas is sexy’ story isn’t just another way of saying: “We just don’t feel like investing in genuine green technologies anymore. Like more car power points along the motorway, more windmills and solar panels, CO2-neutral buildings, new technology for power storage, etc.”

But one thing is certain – the last word on natural gas has not been spoken yet. The debate between gas proponents and opponents is continuing in Germany and Europe. This week, Merkel did promise that a government strategy on the future of natural gas, hydrogen and electromobility would be on the agenda before the year is out.

One last thing: what exactly is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a gas that cannot be extracted out of the ground like natural gas. It must be manufactured. This can be done in various ways. One way is with the help of steam and gas. But electrolysis is more common. With this method, electricity is conducted through water, whereby hydrogen is released as a gas. This gas can then be used as a fuel in cars, for instance, or in industrial processes.

This is in itself beneficial for the environment because the combustion of hydrogen does not release any CO2 nor any fine particles. The disadvantage is that electricity is needed in order to produce hydrogen.  And if that is produced with fossil fuels, then from an environmental point of view you are further from your goal rather than closer.

Help! German forests are dying!

Anyone who has entered the keywords “Bäume” and “sterben” (trees & dying) on the internet over the past few days will undoubtedly have been shocked to the core. Gluttonous beetles, fungi, caterpillars, forest fires, storms and drought have had a disastrous effect on the German forest and tree population.

Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner sees that large parts of German forests are under threat from climate change.

Last Wednesday, the German Minister for Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, was prompted by this deforestation to announce an emergency fund of €800 million, which is why she said at the national ‘Waldgipfel‘ (Forest Summit Conference) in Berlin: ‘Our forests are not doing well’. To the contrary, there are whole areas of forest that are dying.”

 

According to Klöckner, 180,000 hectares of forest are currently under threat, but it is not only the forests that are endangered, as we learnt at another tree conference in Berlin. The situation in cities is at least as critical.

Tree expert Manfred Forstreuter from the Vrije Universiteit Berlin spoke of “a catastrophe” at the Berliner Baumforum. According to him, Berlin lost on balance some 2,500 trees last year and after two very warm years, many trees are in a bad state.

His biggest concern is for the older trees that are 40+ years old. Of the 431,000 street trees (not counting parks and forests), 43% fall into this category. Due to two extremely dry and therefore warm years, the trees suffer from ‘heat stress’. “And too much stress is deadly,” says Forstreuter. “It was warmer here this year than in Tuscany!”

Manfred Forstreuter from FU Berlin

According to Forstreuter, this stress can be seen in the relatively large amount of fruits, nuts and seeds that trees are bearing this year. Fruit growers will be aware of this phenomenon. It is nature’s response to an approaching disaster. “When disaster approaches, trees tend to give their all for their offspring one last time. Then they die.” Another omen are the dry crowns on the trees. But it is not known exactly how many trees are on the brink of dying. “The problem in Berlin is that each district has its own criteria. Moreover, there is no central register for the tree population.”

Fortsreuter does not have any ready-made solutions, but at any rate he does not agree with one of the other speakers at the Baumforum, Martin Schreiner of the Pflanzenschutzamt Berlin. His message is that it is a better idea to let sick old trees die and to focus energy on young, healthy plants instead.

Drought is not the only problem facing German forests. For some time now, the long-horned beetle has been causing enormous damage in Bavaria. Photo Pixabay

According to Schreiner, it would be wiser to use the little money available to the city for new plantings instead. In his view, humankind must learn to live with climate change. “The city has changed enormously in the last 100 years. This not only applies to temperature, but also to the amount of traffic and the types of buildings. This calls for a different approach to environmental management.” He is, for instance, in favor of planting more heat-resistant tree species, a direction that Minister Klöckner is also thinking about for the forests.

Forstreuter believes that it is not that simple to use the term ‘old trees’. Of course, really sick trees have to be chopped down, but for the rest of the trees, which have only been weakened by a few dry years, the municipality must make a serious effort. One way would be to carry out mandatory tree impact assessments as part of construction projects, like the building of houses and new roads and sidewalks.

Incidentally, the most dramatic story at the Baumforum didn’t come from Berlin, but from Magdeburg. There is a murderer all the way from Asia who has decimated 10,000 trees in the past five years. This is the Asian long-horned beetle which, according to forester Jens Geffert from Saxony-Anhalt, has no natural enemies. It is an animal that presumably traveled in wooden pallets from China. To fight this beetle (and its larvae), Geffert has teamed up with about 20 people. “It’s a tough, expensive battle and we don’t know if we’re going to win it yet.”

Floris Beemster (APPM): Conquering the German market with a dash of Dutch creativity

Innovation Origins will be joined by a new columnist this weekend: Floris Beemster (43) is an expert in the field of urban innovation and Germany. Beemster is working together with colleague Sophie Vaessen for the Dutch consultancy firm APPM in Berlin towards “a more beautiful Germany”.

In Germany, APPM acts as an independent expert on smart and sustainable mobility for public and private clients. For instance, improving the accessibility of cities, organizing shared mobility and recharging infrastructure for electric transport. Once a month, Floris will report on his experiences for Innovation Origins.

Is Germany going to be a new experience for you?

No, I’ve een familiar with Berlin and Germany for some time now. The first time I settled here was in 2001 when I studied philosophy of religion. Then I went back to the Netherlands and initially organized international relations for a political party and then went on to focus on urban development for the Amsterdam city council.

This led me to delve more deeply into housing market themes and mobility. Among other things, I advised Amsterdam’s city councilors on how we could get more done at government level. It was about issues such as: How do we keep the city livable for us and our children? And what kind of creative, new concepts are we able to use for this?

During that whole time, I was in Germany on average twice a year for longer periods and often in Berlin. That was until six years ago when I was able to get back to working there for the city of Amsterdam through an exchange project with the city of Berlin. There was a great deal of interest there in the ways in which we approach particular issues in the Netherlands.

What kind of things?

That was quite varied. Two clichés stood out: mobility and making the city bicycle-friendly. But it was more wide-ranging than that. If you want to put a general label on it, it was about various insights on the interpretation of urban and public space.

To cite one example: In the Netherlands we are quite pragmatic when it comes to the use of public parks. If there is a festival where money is to be made, then Dutch councils have no problem at all with temporarily closing that park to the general public and only allowing paying public in. The situation is different in Germany. The reigning principle there is that a park should always be open to everyone and everything. Perhaps we in the Netherlands think too commercially too often, whereas in Germany they could do with doing that a bit more.

Another theme that often came up for discussion was housing. For example, a few years ago in the Netherlands there was a great deal of interest in the German Genossenschaften concept (although less so now). Which is a form of cooperative living that we don’t have or are barely familiar with in the Netherlands. Whereas there was a great deal of interest in our social housing development in Germany, which they do not have to such a major extent.

In fact, the theme of the participation of stakeholders came up again in all of the projects. The Germans think that we are better at dealing with this facet.

How did you end up at APPM?

After having worked for a year and a half ’embedded’ with the city of Berlin and a year and a half as an ‘Amsterdam squatter’ at the embassy in Berlin, I became self-employed and continued to organize the exchange of know-how for a number of regions and the Dutch creative industry in Germany. That had a lot to do with cities like Berlin and Munich. Together we organized a number of missions to South Germany for Dutch regions and vice versa for German regions to the Netherlands, particularly in the areas of mobility and creative industries.

All in all, that was a great success. The ties between the Bavarian parties, Munich and the Utrecht and Amsterdam regions have been strengthened through various projects, including two festivals. I regularly came across APPM in these projects. They wanted to become active in Germany and venture into that huge neighboring country. I saw what a very appealing and ambitious company APPM is and immediately sensed what they needed. On top of that, I already wanted to work more concretely on spatial challenges in Germany. One thing led to another and next week we will open our new office in the Euref ‘future campus’ in Berlin.

What kind of projects will you be working on?

First of all, we will focus on something we are good at in the Netherlands, namely developing urban concepts for e-mobility and cycling in cooperation with German partners. And especially cross-over mobility concepts. For example, we are now in the middle of our first two tenders for two cities, and hopefully I will be able to tell you more about this in my columns in the next few months. And of course I hope that a lot of other things will come our way. There are many opportunities in Germany and we would like to take them on board with a dash of Dutch creativity.

Read moreFloris Beemster (APPM): Conquering the German market with a dash of Dutch creativity

German climate accord too soft to push for technological innovation

It was cynicism that prevailed in recent days during the debate on the German climate deal (see summary of the deal below). It is striking that it is not only the usual suspects, such as environmental organizations and activists, who are labeling the agreement too soft. This criticism has also been voiced by scientists and economists.

According to the critics, the Climate Accord is a nice try, but it does not go far enough. It is cow towing to voters and industry. The coal industry is not being blocked at all. The transition to electric vehicles is not getting underway. There are too few incentives for industry and agriculture to reduce their CO2 emissions. And … and … and …

“This is a missed opportunity,” says energy expert Claudia Kemfert of the DIW economic institute in Berlin. According to her, the whole deal needs to be tightened up on all fronts. “If that doesn’t happen, Germany will never achieve its CO2 targets for 2030,” she tells Innovation Origins.

Professor Claudia Kemfert from the DIW Institute in Berlin in an old (decommissioned) coal-operated power station. Photo DIW

For example, Kemfert would like to see at least as much excise duty paid on diesel as there is on petrol. In one fell swoop, this would yield €8 billion, which could be put to good use as an investment in the railways and charging stations for electric vehicles. “Surely it is plain madness that some fossil fuels are still being subsidized.” Another blunder is the stricter regulations for onshore wind turbines. “As a consequence, the potential from further development of wind energy will be marginalized.”

But climate experts are most disappointed about the introduction of a CO2 tax, which is also very much a controversial issue in the Netherlands as well. The fact that Berlin is introducing this type of tax is considered by almost everyone to be commendable and sensible. “But if petrol becomes 3 cents more expensive in 2021 as a result of this tax, it won’t change the behavior of motorists”, says a cynical Constantin Zerger from the German environmental action group DUH in a reaction to a press release. “That’s even less than the daily fluctuations at the petrol pump.”

According to Kemfert, Berlin is focusing too much on the short term. The governing parties SPD, CDU and CSU are terrified that voters are turning to populist parties such as the AfD and therefore prefer to take measures that will not be as painful. A good example is the compensation that commuters receive for the CO2 tax. “How on earth do you think you can change anything that way,” Kemfert wonders.

Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. Photo PIK A

Anders Levermann from the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) shares this view. “This government proposal is a good example of a policy failure,” he said to the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Like many other scientists, he believes that the CO2 tax should be raised substantially. This is the best and most cost-efficient way to make the transition from polluting technologies and fuels to clean ones.

Levermann: “If we want to achieve the Paris climate targets, we need a tax of at least 35 euros per tonne. Preferably more. But the Federal Government is starting with €10!” That is nowhere near enough to reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 866 million tonnes to the 563 million tonnes that was agreed to in Paris.

Is there nothing positive about the climate accord? Sure there is. The direction that is being taken with the CO2 tax. Climatologists hope that things will go the same way as they did with the introduction of excise duty on petrol. There was a lot of resistance to this at first. Yet this form of taxation has now become widely accepted. The same thing should happen with the CO2 tax, due in part to how some of this revenue was returned to the public,.

One of the aspects of the Climate Accord is that wind turbines will only be allowed to be built far away from houses. As a result, the potential area where windmills may still be built will be reduced by 50%. Photo Pixabay

The most important points in the German Climate Accord are summarized as follows:

  1. CO2 tax
    The Berlin government wants to introduce fixed CO2 prices for the transport sector and energy consumption in buildings by 2021. This will be done in the form of certificates which will be sold to companies who will pass on the costs to motorists, for example. The CO2 tax will gradually be increased. A start will be made in 2021 with €10 per tonne of CO2. In 2022 this will be €20, until the price reaches €35 in 2025. If you translate that into the price of petrol, in 2021 it will amount to an additional 3 cents and in 2025 it will be 12 cents. An auction system for CO2 certificates with a minimum price of €35 and a maximum of €60 is planned from 2026 onward.
  2. More stringent CO2 emission checks                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Each year, an annual assessment will be made of the extent to which CO2 emissions have been reduced in various sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and transport. If these are not enough, the relevant ministry must come up with additional measures within three months.
  3. Tax
    As of 2021, motor vehicle taxes for cars with high CO2 emissions will increase. There will also be a higher sales premium for electric vehicles with a purchase price of less than 40,000 euros. The motor vehicle tax for this price range will be lowered to 0.25 percent. As of 2023, the road tax for trucks will be more in line with CO2 emissions and will be double the current rate. Commuters will be reimbursed for the higher costs.
  4. Railways
    Rail transport must become cheaper and more efficient. For this purpose, an additional €10 billion will be invested between now and 2030, and value added tax on long-distance train tickets will be reduced from 19% to 7%.
  5. Flights
    Plane tickets will have to be at least twice as expensive as the tax that is on them. Now that means that even the cheapest ticket may not be cheaper than 30 euros. Furthermore, the airport tax is to be increased in order to finance extra investment in the railways.
  6. Cheaper electricity
    In order to avoid overcharging consumers, the environmental tax on electricity – the so-called EEG tariff which subsidizes green electricity – will be reduced by 0.25 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity by 2021. In 2022, this will drop by a further 0.25 cents and another 0.125 cents in 2023. The EEC tariff is currently 6.4 cents, which is about one fifth of the total electricity price in Germany.
  7. Wind and solar energy
    With regard to the electricity supply, a target of 60% green energy has been set for 2030. This will require more wind and solar energy. How Berlin wants to achieve this still needs to be worked out in more detail.
    With regard to wind energy, Berlin has proposed stricter guidelines for onshore wind turbines. New windmills must be at least 1000 meters away from residential areas, which means that there is considerably less space available for new windmills. This must be compensated for by more offshore wind power stations. The aim is to increase capacity from 5 to 20 gigawatts by 2030.
    Additionally, the subsidy limit for solar energy, which was set at 52 gigawatts, will be lifted.
  8. Building renovations
    An extra subsidy will be granted for making buildings energy-efficient.
  9. Oil heating
    Germany still has many old-fashioned oil heaters, especially in rural areas. This has to stop and in order to achieve this there will be a trade-in incentive of up to 40%. New oil heaters will be prohibited as of 2026.
  10. Costs
    Berlin estimates that the climate deal will result in approximately €54 billion in additional costs for the state coffers between now and 2023. That is about 1.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

 

Start-up of the day: Cleaning products made from acorns

Herbi Clean has already got the local environment on its side. The Polish start-up is located in Bialystok, near the border with Belarus and the Białowieża National Park with one of the few and oldest low-altitude forests in Europe. The perfect spot for a manufacturer of cleaning products which are made from what is out there in the environment.

CEO Przemyslaw Kolak explains that the idea for Herbi Clean arose more than two years ago. It was a cleaning product with an extract from acorns as its main ingredient.

How did you come up with the idea of using acorns for cleaning products?

“”The whole idea behind our company is to make products based on plant matter. The reason for this is that we are convinced that plants contain many valuable ingredients that have not yet been sufficiently utilized.”

When scientist and entrepreneur Miroslaw Angielczyk (owner of the company Dary Natury) told us a few years ago about a new study on oak trees, we decided to take a closer look. It turned out that acorns contain a certain substance that has a strong antibacterial effect similar to that of antibiotics. That was the reason for us to come up with a new line of cleaning products.

What specifically is the secret inside an acorn?

That’s in the 7% tannin contained in an acorn. Many people will be familiar with tannins in wine and tea, for example. It is a collective name for a chemical substance that can vary from one plant to another.

Plants developed tannins during their evolution as a substance to protect themselves against herbivores. Humans can use them to protect themselves against bacteria, viruses and so-called free radicals (atoms with only one neutron). Tannins bind to toxins produced by bacteria. Moreover, the bacteria are no longer able to reproduce.

From left to right sales manager Edyta Banasik, CEO Przemyslaw Kolak and co-founder Dagmara Rut.

How does your company differentiate itself from other companies?

Unlike most other manufacturers of detergents and cosmetics, we focus on plant products based entirely on scientific research. Nature is home to enormous forces. Yet it takes expertise to exploit that potential and to make the most of it. Not all plants and herbs are good for us and not everything that is natural is safe. The priority for us lies with knowledge that originates on the one hand from traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation, and on the other hand that comes from science.

What were the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome?

The biggest problem for any start-up is finding funding. We have made a first step here with a financial injection from Meta Zernike Ventures and the National Capital Fund, but the greatest challenges are still ahead of us because we want to move up on to a global scale and we need more money to do be able to do that.

We are now in discussions with various investors about the next investment round. But unfortunately we’re not from the IT industry, so that’s not such a simple process.

The hardest thing about a start-up is the fact that I have a family with children. I am a scientist and an experienced manager. And yet I get up every morning with the feeling: ” is what I am so committed to all really worth it?” But fortunately that’s just a fleeting moment. Then after that I realize once more just how great it is to develop products that are able to change and improve people’s lives.

What was or were your most rewarding moment(s)?

I hear on a regular basis that our customers recommend our products to others. These are moments that I and the team I work with are really proud of.

How do you see the way forward for Herbi Clean?

At the moment we have 6 products based on an extract of oak. In the coming weeks, we will be bringing more products onto the market, including a toilet refresher and a detergent. So far, these have only been destined for the Polish market, yet we are ready for expansion abroad. The product is universal, so we believe it could just as easily be sold in Europe, Asia and America.

We also started researching and developing products based on other plants with properties that are as unique as acorns are. We want to mix the extracts from these plants in order to obtain even more powerful antibacterial results, but also, for example, as a bleaching agent or to counter unpleasant odours.

During the next phase we also want to develop products for industrial use in addition to products for the home. We see great business potential there, because a lot of chemicals are currently being used there and hardly ever any plant-based products. We are convinced that, with the right financial support, we will be able to become a well-known international company within a few years.

Are you interested in start-ups? An overview of all our articles on this start-ups can be found here.

 

Interview: “German industry is already in the middle of a crisis”

“A ray of hope for German industry”, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt wrote last Tuesday when the German office for statistics announced that more orders had been placed than had been lost as of June 0.1%. However, this is by no means sufficient reason for celebration, says Professor Timo Wollmershäuser of the Munich-based Ifo economic institute in an interview with Innovation Origins. The fact is that German industry is in an abominable state, with turnover and the number of orders in its portfolio already in decline since last year.

Wollmershäuser: “Many people wonder whether Germany is in recession, but if you only look at the industry, we are already in the middle of it.”

According to Wollmershäuser, this is a small catastrophe for Germany’s innovative capability, because industry is at the heart of the economy, much more so than in other countries. International comparisons also show this. In 2018, for example, more than 23% of Germany’s gross national product (GNP) was generated by industry, while in the Netherlands and Great Britain it was only around 18%.

Professor Timo Wollmershäuser of the Ifo Institute in Munich

Bottom of the till not yet in sight

In the end, less turnover in the industry means less money for new machines, intelligent robots and other modernization such as electric cars and automated factories. “We have had one stroke of luck, and that is that companies have been thrifty in recent years and therefore have relatively deep pockets. So the loss of sales can be compensated for a while by temporary measures such as a reduction in working hours. Yet the longer the recession lasts, the greater the need for cuts in all costs. This also means that the R&D budget will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

According to Wollmershäuser, this is already evident in the downturn in investments. “There are no specific figures on which types of investments are in decline as yet. But it is certain that investments will drop. We assume that, for the time being, these are mainly postponed investments to replace, for example, old machines. Nevertheless, there will come a time when actual R&D expenditure will be involved too, and that is obviously bad for our innovative capabilities.

Will the German car industry still have enough money left to develop the car of the future?

Government spending versus lowering taxes

It is therefore high time that the government did something to boost investment and the economy in the view of Wollmershäuser. There are basically two possibilities for this. In one case, the government itself spends more on, for example, roads, building redevelopment, etc., and in so doing tries to boost the economic engine. And in the second case, by lowering taxes, the government will instead leave it up to the business community to invest more.

Wollmerhäuser clearly prefers the latter. According to him, this is the most efficient and effective way to get the industry out of the doldrums and raise the level of investment. And it could easily be done, because Germany currently has a relatively high tax burden on corporate profits at around 30%, compared to a mere 25% in France, for instance.

Berlin is slow on the uptake

Some of the plans have already been laid out on the table. The annoying thing is that Berlin requires an endless amount of time to put them into practice. A good example is the abolition of the so-called solidarity tax, a surcharge that every citizen and company must pay on top of ordinary taxes and which last year brought in €18.9 billion for the state.

The German Government wants to abolish this additional tax – which was once invented to help the new federal states of East Germany – by 2021. But why wait so long? Next year is also an option, Wollmershäuser states.

Wollmershäuser considers it a bad move because it is at the expense of investment in small and medium-sized enterprises. “Unfortunately, this affects a lot of small-scale entrepreneurs, even though it is precisely these entrepreneurs who would be helped in their investment decisions if the soli-tax were to be abolished.”

 

Fewer taxes or preferably more money for modernizing rundown roads and buildings?

More investment in infrastructure? Don’t do it

Many analysts are advising Berlin to spend more on infrastructure. However, Wollmershäuser does not agree. He concurs with the criticism that maintenance of German infrastructure is definitely overdue, but what many people forget to mention is that the government budget for this has already been drastically increased over the past few years. Subsequently, a lot of work is already being done in order to resolve the construction backlog.

Secondly, additional infrastructure investments would come at the wrong time. “The construction sector is one of the few German sectors that is still operating at full capacity. That is why they really do not need any extra work from the government and will only take it on at very high prices.”

In conclusion, infrastructural investments cannot be raised overnight. Building decisions take time to be made, worked out and implemented. “As an anti-recession measure, it is therefore pointless to raise infrastructure investments,” says Wollmershäuser. He does, however, argue in favor of setting infrastructure expenditure at a reasonable level for a longer period of time. This will prevent a repeat of the 2008-2010 situation when the construction industry collapsed as a result of the credit crisis.

 

This is the second part of a series concerning a potential recession in Germany and the consequences this will have for innovation and R&D expenditure.

Max Planck & co happy with R&D incentives from the German Government

I’m sure it hasn’t eluded many people in the last few weeks. Germany is in danger of ending up in recession, and the government in Berlin is not doing enough to prevent it. According to the critics, there is too much fixation on reducing the government’s debt, while in the meantime infrastructure is collapsing, government buildings are rotting away and the speed of the Internet is still very slow.

Berlin must take out its wallet and be quick about it too. Otherwise, Germany will become the ailing figure in Europe once again.

Savings mania

The criticism is partly justified. You can dispute the deep-seated need to not spend more than what comes in. We have done that in the Netherlands as well, and the argument that we shouldn’t live off the backs of future generations, well, there is something to that too.

But it is incredibly frustrating that plans to improve the infrastructure are in place, but they are not being implemented yet because of too many complex regulations, bureaucracy and consultation procedures.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to have the impression that Berlin is doing absolutely nothing in order to keep Germany modern and innovative. This is evident, for example, in the opinion of the so-called ‘non-university research institutes’. These are Max Planck, Fraunhofer, Helmholtz and Leibniz: four institutions, each with their own specializations, which are invaluable to Germany as a knowledge economy. Although, in a broader sense, also for global climate policy, biodiversity and disease prevention.

The non-university research institutes are spread all over Germany.

120 billion euro subsidy

The non-university institutions do not have to deal with the education sector and are able to focus entirely on basic and applied research. They are therefore a useful complement to the regular universities. They are a frequent springboard for start-ups and businesses also benefit from their expertise. Moreover, they don’t have to worry about recessions, because the funding is secured by a new ‘Forschung und Entwicklung’ ( PFI, Research and Development) pact which the government drew up a couple of weeks ago.

“As far as we are concerned, the government has sent a strong signal with this pact,” says a spokesman for the Helmoltz Association in a reaction. “The new PFI will ensure that we get 3% more per year over the coming ten years.”

The Max-Plack Society also says it is extremely satisfied. “We will be able to plan our future without any concerns with this pact.” The PFI Pact is not new. The first pact was approved by Angela Merkel’s initial cabinet in 2005. According to the institutes, what is different about this pact is its duration. Previous PFI agreements always ran for four years. Now it is ten years, and it is not dealing in peanuts.

Approximately 120 billion euros in subsidies will flow from Berlin and the federal states to Max Planck & co up until 2030. This is a source of money that many foreign universities will be jealous of and it is completely independent of the economic situation. It is long-term planning at its best.

 

This is the first part of a series about a potential recession in Germany and the consequences this will have for innovation and R&D expenditure.

“Project See-Meile”: Berlin experiment with self-driving bus on public roads

The road is more or less made for it: one long straight stretch measuring 600 meters, with a green strip in the middle of the first few hundred meters which neatly separates the traffic to and from the harbor. Many cars do not drive there on the ‘Am Tegeler Hafen’ road as it is. It is therefore ideal for the first Berlin trial with a self-driving bus on a public road.

According to a spokesman from the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), trials have previously been carried out in towns and small cities in Germany. There are also two pilot projects in Berlin which involve autonomous buses operating on the private premises of the Charité and Virchow hospitals. “Yet these trials cannot be compared to the ‘Project See-Meile’ on Berlin’s public roads, where many other factors must be taken into account.” These pilot projects are more similar to, for example, the ParkShuttle in Rotterdam, which runs on a public bus lane and only has to pass a number of intersections. Or ‘the People Mover’, as the autonomous buses are also known as at the Frankfurt am Main Airport in Germany.

EasyMile

According to the BVG, this project is relatively unique. As of this week, the bus runs back and forth between the Alt-Tegel metro station and Lake Tegeler, one of the largest lakes in Berlin. The car from the French company EasyMile can only be described as cute. The bright white minibus – with six seats and a permanent supervisory staff member – travels at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour. Because yes, the bus is not allowed to drive around without an attendant. There’s no steering wheel in the bus, but the ‘Fahrbegleiter’ ( Travel Attendant) is always able to press an emergency button.

Cars behind the EasyMile minibus have to be patient. It just doesn’t go very fast. Photo Maurits Kuypers

People who would like to ride on it will have to be patient for a little while longer, because over the next few weeks test run data is needed before the line can be used ‘hopefully by the end of this month’, the BVG has announced.

Great for seniors

A lady in her eighties, with long white hair and a broad smile on her face, says she is already looking forward to it. “Walking at our age is of course healthy, but if you’ve just done some shopping and then have to go back home, the bus seems to be pretty handy”.

The route of Project See-Meile.

According to her, there are a lot of elderly people living along the bus route who would like to catch a ride just like she wants to. “Recently we had an informative meeting here organized by the BVG and it was packed. Interest in the neighborhood is enormous. And incidentally, I think it’s fun for tourists too …”

Tegel is more than just an airport

Many Dutch people might think of the airport with the same name when they hear the word Tegel, but Alt-Tegel is actually one of the favorite places for Berliners when they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city in the summer. Boat trips to Werder, Potsdam and Oranienburg are particularly popular among the elderly. Yet you can also walk along the Havel, go pedal boating, play miniature golf or have a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants. A tip for the Dutch: the bus is free!

During summer many people go on a day trip to Lake Tegeler. Photo Maurits Kuypers

According to the BVG we can’t expect that the bus will be running by next year. “It is a pilot project that will run until the end of this year. Then we’ll see what the next step is.”

Still many more questions

According to him, there are still many more questions yet to be answered before then. For example, does it really make sense to have a fully automated bus in addition to regular public transport for this comparatively short journey? What do local residents and users think of the bus? Are there any technical obstacles that need to be overcome?

If these kinds of questions are answered satisfactorily and in full, then as far as the BVG is concerned, the possibilities are not limited to this particular line passing through Alt-Tegel. Many other routes in Berlin may come under consideration where the minibus could be introduced. The technology is already very good, the BVG says. The minibus is not allowed to drive as fast, nevertheless, the battery will last for 10 hours. And by using the so-called ‘Lidar sensors’, safety is optimally guaranteed. All that is left to do, is to iron out the initial problems.

Which regions have the future in Germany?

At Innovation Origins you are used to receiving the latest news about all kinds of technological innovations, discoveries and successful startups, especially in Europe. Macroeconomic forecasts tend to play a less important role.

Nevertheless, economic conditions in a country, region or city are of course important for the future. Cities with leading universities and many wealthy large companies have better opportunities than cities that do not. Countries with low debts have more opportunity to invest in R&D than countries with high debts. And regions with good infrastructure and plenty of highly educated young people always offer an advantage to investors.

These kinds of preconditions are of immense importance especially in times when the economy is at a crossroads. Germany is in a position to comment on this more than any other country. For example, during the 2009 credit crisis, few other countries fell into as deep a recession as the Germans did. The economy shrank by 5.6% in 2009, whereas the Netherlands lost 3.9% of its GDP. All regions shared this malaise.

Economic miracle

But a year later, the sentiment had quickly reversed. There was even talk of a new economic miracle. The crisis was forgotten almost as soon as it arrived, particularly in regions with strong economic structures such as Bavaria and Baden Württemberg.

Once again we seem to be at a (negative) turning-point. Look at Basf, Daimler and Lufthansa, for example, who recently issued hefty profit warnings. Ford, Opel, Thyssen-Krupp, Siemens and Deutsche Bank are preparing their staff for mass redundancies. And the entire automotive and machinery industry is suffering from declining sales in China. It is not for nothing that economists are talking more often about a new recession.

Yet for the optimists among us, this is also a perfect time to grab a map and see where the best opportunities will lie when the economy picks up again. Where are the innovative companies? Where are the universities? Where is the money? Where are the qualified people?

Atlas of Germany

Each year, the German Ministry of the Interior draws up a ‘Deutschlandatlas’ (Atlas of Germany), which identifies the structurally strongest and weakest regions on the basis of numerous criteria. For many years, the picture has for the main part been the same. Southern Germany is strong, especially around the cities of Stuttgart and Munich. The East is weak, with a few small exceptions around cities like Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig. And in the West, there are major differences within a relatively short distance of each other with. On the one hand, thriving cities such as Düsseldorf and Cologne, and on the other, cities which have been almost written-off, like Essen and Duisburg. That image is reflected in the atlas.

For instance, consider this map on the unemployment rate:

Or the regional contribution to the national income per capita:

Or the ageing demographic per region:

Click here for a complete overview of all 56 maps (in German)

The disadvantage of the German atlas, which was published this week anew, is that it does not give an overall representation. It is comprised of a lot of individual maps. Another atlas published last weekend provides a little more reassurance in this respect. This is the Zukunftsatlas by Prognos.

Prognos relies on slightly fewer indicators (29 ), all of which are important for the future sustainability of 401 ‘Landkreise’ (municipalities) and ‘Kreisfreie Städte’ (larger cities). The atlas is produced every three years.

The future atlas from Prognos

Click here for the 2019 interactive Zukunftsatlas from Prognos (in German)

One of the most striking features of the 2019 atlas of the future is that the disparities between the rich South and poor East still exist, but are narrowing. The same applies to the disparities between large cities and rural areas.

“In previous editions of the atlas the maximum difference between the number one (now Munich) and the last number (now Stendhal) was 32 points. This year it’s down to 29 points,” said CEO Christian Böllhof in a presentation to the German newspaper Handelsblatt..

Trickle-down

Böllhof refers to “trickle-down effects”. The best example is Teltow-Fläming, a region just south of Berlin, which climbed 115 places to the 170th position between 2016 and 2019. Berlin is thereby demonstrating more and more its potential as an economic center with a wider impact on the surrounding areas. A role that it also had at the beginning of the last century, when Berlin and the Ruhr region were the economic mainstays in Germany.

Where does Prognos see the most dynamism?

Nevertheless, according to the map, there are still many things that could be done better in Berlin. With its 93rd place, the capital city still has to let other cities pass it by, like Munich (1), Ingolstadt (3), Darmstadt (4), Stuttgart (5), Wolfsburg (9) and Frankfurt (10), which are all way ahead. The capital is lagging miles behind, especially in terms of prosperity for its residents. At the same time, for the last 15 years Berlin has been the fourth largest climber in the Prognos ranking. Leipzig is actually the highest climber since 2004.

Unfortunately for the Netherlands, most of the top locations are far away from our border, with a few exceptions such as Düsseldorf, which landed at number 12, Hamburg, at number 21, Münster (25) and Cologne (26). The municipality of Aurich which is on the border close to Groningen, is one of the least future-proof regions of Germany as number 340. This is mainly due to its ageing population and weak employment market.

What we need in e-mobility is a cheap car for the masses

Lower costs have always led to major breakthroughs in the automobile industry.Think about the T Ford for instance, the first car for a wider public; the Volkswagen Beetle; or the Citroën 2CV (deux chevaux). A lot of people become overjoyed when they get to drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but in the end it’s the cheaper models which turn out to be far more influential. This is one of the most important things that remains lacking in electric cars according to Isabel Wagner from the Statista research agency, as she states in the study ‘An overview of the electric car industry and associated technology’.

Download: study_id62346_statista-dossierplus-on-the-electric-car-industry (1).

In itself, the production of an electric car is much easier than that of a petrol, gas or diesel car. There are far fewer moving parts inside of it. Wear and tear on the engine is hardly an issue. The main drawback is the battery, for a major breakthrough it is still too expensive and has too little capacity. As a result, there are no models available that are both cheap and which can travel long distances on a single battery charge.

The good old 2cv, photo: Pixabay

Battery costs

Research from Wagner shows that about 50 percent of the cost of an electric car is in the battery. These costs have to be reduced, while at the same time capacity must be increased. In the meantime, the environmental friendliness of the battery needs to be guaranteed. Why else would you drive an electric car?

For more information about electric cars, also see our archive

Many people will remember the incidents in 2016 with exploding lithium-ion batteries in Samsung products. Tesla has had similar problems. These incidents have led to a lot of tests subsequently being carried out involving the addition of cobalt, manganese, nickel and graphite amongst other things. With success, as the batteries have become more stable. The annoying thing is that these are not exactly the cheapest and most environmentally friendly raw materials. Moreover, they are sometimes extracted under appalling conditions. For example, think about the sometimes inhumane conditions in African cobalt mines.

Yet, despite all of these problems, the cost of batteries has fallen considerably according to Mayer’s figures:

Costs per kilowatt hour (kWh) were in:

  • 2010: $1000
  • 2013: $599
  • 2016: $273
  • 2019 (estimate): $158

Longer range

For Mayer, this is cause for optimism. She sees the gap getting smaller and smaller between electric cars and cars with an internal combustion engines. This applies to the range as well as the costs.

Average distance that one battery is expected to cover:

  • 2020: 300 kilometer
  • 2025: 380 kilometer
  • 2030: 440 kilometer

The Netherlands, charging port champion

However, you won’t get there just with better electric cars. A solution also needs to be found for the scarce recharging infrastructure. Although some improvements may have been made in the area of charging stations, according to surveys it is still not enough to convince people en masse to switch over to electricity.

China is leading the way in terms of charging stations in absolute numbers. But the Netherlands is best when it comes to range if you look at the charging stations per road surface kilometer.

Still too few loading stations in the city and in the countryside, photo:Pixabay

Number of recharging stations per 100 kilometres of paved road:

  1. The Netherlands 19,3 km
  2. China 3,5 km
  3. United Kingdom 3,1 km
  4. Germany 2,8 km
  5. United Arab Emirates 2,5 km
  6. Japan 2,3 km
  7. Singapore 2,2 km
  8. South Korea 2,0 km
  9. Sweden 1,9 km
  10. France 1,5 km
  11. United States 0,9 km

If the charging infrastructure problem is also solved, Mayer thinks that little will stand in the way of the rise in the E-car’s popularity. By 2030, she expects an annual production of 30 million hybrid and 100% electric cars. That would be half of all the cars that would then be made. Of course, this would also have an impact on the entire pool of vehicles.

Estimated number of electric cars on the road, worldwide:

  • 2020: 13 million
  • 2022: 25 million
  • 2024: 40 million
  • 2026: 60 million
  • 2028: 87 million
  • 2030: 127 million

Winners and losers

Who are the winners and losers amongst car manufacturers? According to Mayer, that’s still an unresolved question. Sometimes there are doubts whether the old car giants like Volkswagen, GM, Ford are able to compete with ‘disrupters’ like Tesla or BYD. It is also true that for years, the oldies have had little faith in electro-mobility. However, this attitude now seems to be a thing of the past when you look at the huge sums of money which are currently being invested.

R&D investments in 2018:

  • Volkswagen: $15,53 billion
  • Daimler: $10,36 billion
  • Toyota: $9,58 billion
  • Ford: $8,2 billion
  • General Motors: $7.8 billion

Ever since 1832

Mayer has compiled a list of some more car revolutions. The very first was an electric one from the Scottish car pioneer Robert Anderson, who developed his “electric carriage” in 1832,  just before the Groningen chemist and inventor Sibrandus Stratingh came up with a similar product in 1834. The next revolution ought to be an electric one as well, one with better and cheaper batteries.

  • 1832 – Robert Anderson creates the first crude electric carriage
  • 1900 – Ferdinand Porsche develops the world’s first hybrid
  • 1935 – Gasoline-powered cars force EVs out of the market
  • 1996 – General Motors launches the EV1
  • 1997 – Toyota releases the Prius – the first mass-produced hybrid car
  • 2008 – Tesla Motors launches its Roadster, an all-electric luxury sports car. BYD releases the F3DM – the world’s first plug-in hybrid compact sedan
  • 2010 – General Motors introduces the Chevy Volt – the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid;
  • 2014 – Nissan releases the all-electric Leaf Nissan Leaf sales surpass the 100,000 unit mark
  • 2018 – The Model 3 becomes Tesla’s best-selling model

What robot fish, bees and self-driving cars have to do with each other

“Don’t talk too loudly or move too fast”, whispers Professor Tim Landgraf from the Freie Universtät Berlin. “Otherwise the fish will freak out.” He has just pulled up a large curtain which is surrounding a big tank with four small fish. Well, there are three of them, because one of the fish is actually a robot that is moved back and forth with the help of a magnet underneath the aquarium.
The goal, Landgraf explains, is to make the robot fish as much as possible a part of the group of the real fish in order to map the behaviour of the school of fish. “We’re getting better and better at it,” he says. The robot fish is becoming more and more accepted as a group member. It was a matter of taking small and bigger steps. When the fish got realistic large round eyes instead of painted dots, it proved to be an enormous leap forward. “That’s what the other fish were scared to death of.”

Professor Tim Landgraf, photo FU Berlin

It is just one of the nature research projects that Landgraf is working on at the Berlin University. The other major project involves a bee population in which all bees have been tagged so that their behaviour can be observed over a lifetime.

But why? Why is that information of any use to us?

A bee with a traceable tag on its back, photo FU Berlin

Food exchange

Landgraf does a lot of thinking. Animals and plants are often extremely good at particular things. The way in which bees collect and search for food, how they communicate with each other, etcetera. These are processes that have been perfected over hundreds of thousands of years. If you can capture that in algorithms, it can be extremely educational. “Everything we see in nature is enormously complex and are actually highly developed technologies from which we as human beings can learn if we look closely enough.”
An example of this for bees is how they use their energy. Like humans, bees need food to carry out their work. But sometimes their energy reservoir is empty, while the work is not yet finished and there are no flowers with nectar nearby. Bees have found a solution to this problem. They have a kind of second stomach with reserve food for friends in need. If one of the bees runs out of food, it can fill up on food from another bee.

Cars that refuel each other, photo FU Berlin

Auto-pilot driving

It’s a concept that Landgraf says people could use with electric cars. Especially when all cars will be driven using autopilot. You could provide them with a spare battery that would help other cars which have a flat battery. This would partly solve the problem of the limited range of e-cars. The refueling can even be done while driving, says Landgraf. Then you won’t waste any time.

And that just happens to be another research field of research at the FU Berlin. Twenty meters from Landgraf’s office, other FU employees use robot cars in their quest to perfect autopilot driving. Docking is also being tested. Outside, of course, there is also a real car to try out in the real world what has been tested in the laboratory set-up. Different fields of research intersect, says Landgraf. According to him, it’s the sort of research that Facebook and Google also do. They just have a little more money.

Saying goodbye to toxic antifouling and hello to the milking robot

It is a problem that sailors are all too familiar with. Every few years their boat needs to be taken out of the water because the cargo area is covered in algae, mussels and other underwater creatures that slow down and damage the ship. Nothing but scratching, burning, sanding and re-applying the toxic layer of antifouling paint until it is damaged again.

It is a miserable circle for both water sport enthusiasts and the environment, because antifouling is one of the most polluting and toxic types of paint imaginable. But fortunately, Dutchman Rik Breur has discovered an environmentally friendly alternative – a self-adhesive carpet that has exactly the same effect as the antifouling paint, but that is much less harmful to the environment.

It is such a sensation that it was nominated in one of the five categories of the European Inventor Awards 2019, which will be held on 20 June in Vienna. Other Dutchmen who are nominated are Alexander van der Lely and Karel van den Berg in the category Industry, with “the Astronaut”, a new type of milking robot.

Great honour and opportunity

“A great honor”, is what Breur calls it on the phone. And a fantastic promotion for his fairly new company. So far, he has covered roughly 100 pleasure yachts and 25 professional ships with his carpets, but his ambitions are much greater. “There is a huge increase in the need for environmentally friendly alternatives, especially among private consumers. In addition, the cost of our carpets, at €30 per square metre, is not much higher than that of traditional antifouling paint. Moreover, because of the durability of the material, there is a much smaller chance that the boats need to be taken out of the water.”

Selling to the commercial shipping industry has been somewhat less successful. According to Breur, there is a certain amount of hesitation. First of all, the companies wish to have more transparency about the costs and the possible higher energy consumption for sailing. But Breur believes he has made a lot of progress in this area over the past ten years.

An avid diver

It all started at the end of the nineties when he, a scientific researcher and an avid diver, first became fascinated by the way in which sea urchins in particular protect themselves against the growth of algae. They use their prickly skin to do this. Breur tried to imitate the skin of the sea urchin in the laboratory, and in 2006 he designed a first practical application for fishing nets and cages.

Rik Breur of antifouling alternative “Finsulate”

Once that was reasonably successful, he shifted his focus to ships. Ten years of research finally resulted in a carpet consisting of numerous small, constantly moving nylon needles. He lovingly calls it a “prickly skin” that can be attached to the hull of any ship.

In addition to nylon fibres, the skin consists of a two-component water-based adhesive and a polyester film. Since the fibers are located so close to one another, nothing can get in between. Moreover, they are designed in such a way that they hardly slow down the ship at all.

Award in the SME category

The prickly skin, patented under the name Finsulate, previously won the Dutch Hiswa Award 2018 for innovations in water sports. And now it also has a European nomination under its belt that could attract a lot of international attention and possibly also investors.

Breur is already on board with the “Nationaal Groenfonds” (National Green Fund), a major investor. For the production of the carpets, he is collaborating with so-called “Flock companies”. These are companies that use adhesives and electrodes to apply short fibres (in Breur’s case, nylon needles) to a solid surface (in Breur’s case, polyester film).

Competitors from Norway and Great Britain

Breur is not the only candidate for the European Inventor Awards. There are fifteen in total in five different categories. Breur was nominated in the SME category along with Esben Beck from Norway, who has developed an intelligent laser that can identify and switch off parasites underwater, which may be a major step forward for salmon farming. Currently, sea lice and other parasites are mostly combated with environmentally unfriendly chemicals and antibiotics.

The third nominated party in the SME category consists of Richard Palmer and Philip Green, who have developed a flexible foam that hardens as soon as it collides with something. This invention can be particularly applicable in sport or dangerous professions.

Market leader in automated systems for dairy farming

In addition to the SME category, there are awards for the best innovations from industry, research, non-European countries and for a person’s life’s work. Lely, a Dutch company, is one of the candidates in the Industry category. More specifically, the company is represented by Alexander van der Lely and Karel van den Berg, who are nominated for their fully automated milking robot, which is beneficial for both the cow and the dairy farmer.

According to the jury, the great thing about Van der Lely and Van den Berg’s milking robot is its ability to connect cows to high-tech machines without compromising on their freedom of movement. The cows decide for themselves when and how often they are milked, without any human intervention.

Alexander van der Lely and Karel van den Berg

It is also a valuable instrument for monitoring and data collection and analysis. The cow-friendly milking robot improves animal welfare, increases milk production, reduces labour costs and helps farmers with more efficient management.

According to António Campinos, chairman of the European Inventor Awards, the Lely system demonstrates “how high-tech robotics can support and develop the sustainability of the agricultural sector… By licensing the technology, they have also accelerated commercialisation and turned their company into a global player.”

The Astronaut

Family business Lely is not to be underestimated. The company is the global market leader in the field of automated systems in the dairy industry. According to its spokesman, Lely currently has approximately 1500 employees, 2 production sites, 1,600 patents and more than 40 sales markets. In 2018 the company’s turnover amounted to 416 million euros, to which “the Astronaut” also contributed.

Vienna award ceremony

The winners will be announced on 20 June in Vienna. The public will be able to choose their favourite on that day too. The Awards have been presented since 2006 by the European Patent Office (EPO) and count as a recognition of individual inventors and teams of inventors whose groundbreaking inventions provide answers to the major challenges of our time.

The last Dutchman to win a prize was Jan van den Boogaart, who, together with Austrian Oliver Hayden, developed a quick blood test for malaria at Siemens in 2017, in the Industry category.

Berlin Adlershof: Where Angela Merkel once studied, solar experiments now deliver new applications for renewable energy

MBraun’s representative looks pleased as he watches his “Glove Box” being used in practice. It has large glass cabinets with rubber arms to allow the employees of the Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB) to work in a sterile environment. A young researcher is mirroring two solar cells on top of each other in one of the cabinets, “because that’s one of the things we do here”, says HZB professor Steve Albrecht. “Together with our partners, we are looking for new applications in the photovoltaic industry.”

The “Industrietag 2019” in the HZB research centre in the Berlin district of Adlershof provides a perfect opportunity to showcase the most promising projects to colleagues from the industry and other scientific institutes. Amongst them are members of the renowned Max-Planck Institute and Fraunhofer, but also companies such as Von Ardenne and Oxford PV.

Merkel and the Wright brothers

The majority of them work within walking distance, because in Adlershof a great deal of photovoltaic knowledge is concentrated in a relatively small area of 4.1 km2. “It is no coincidence that this district has been an industrial research centre since the beginning of the last century,” explains Roland Sillmann of Wista Management, the organisation that has a major say in who is allowed to set up business in Adlershof.

Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin laboratory in the Adlershof technology district

Sillmann: “This is the location of one of the first German airports at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Wright brothers, amongst others, tested their planes here. In the 1920s, one of BMW’s most important factories was located here, and in the GDR period, it was the most important research centre. And did you know that Angela Merkel studied here?”

After the fall of the Wall in 1989, it took some time for Adlershof to get back on its feet, but now, according to Sillmann, it is once again one of the most important technology centres in Germany. It is home to 16 scientific institutions and 1,150 companies, most of them active in the fields of renewable energy, nanotechnology and fabrication, biotechnology and the optical industry.

Thin-layer composites

HZB conducts research in various domains in the field of solar cells. They are experimenting with the traditional silicon as a semiconductor material, but other materials are also very important, such as the so-called thin-layer composites CIGS (copper, indium, gallium and selenide) and the mineral perovskite. These provide a much higher efficiency and are generally thinner.

According to Rutger Schlattmann, who is responsible for communicating scientific knowledge to companies at HZB, one of the most promising projects is the combination of perovskite and CIGS solar cells, a study that is being carried out in cooperation with the Eindhoven University of Technology.

Tandem cells

“The great advantage of these “tandem cells” is that perovskite can convert blue light from the sun into energy, while CIGS cells target the red spectrum,” explains Schlattmann. When combined, this results in extra powerful cells which can eventually convert up to 30% of the sunlight into electricity, he believes. By comparison, the average rooftop solar panel has an efficiency of between 15 and 20%.

The Oxford PV perovskite pilot plant in Brandenburg an der Havel

HZB has now reached an efficiency of 21.6% with its “perovskite CIGS cells”, according to Professor Albrecht. It is more or less at the same level as European research centre Solliance, which recently reached 21.5%. The centre, based in Eindhoven, also sees great opportunities in this technology.

HZB has another tandem solar cell with an even higher efficiency of over 25%, which is composed of perovskite and silicon. For these tandem solar cells, it has already built an industrial pilot plant in Brandenburg, in collaboration with British company Oxford PV. According to Schlattmann, the main advantage of the perovskite CIGS solar cells is that they are much cheaper to produce, both due to lower material costs and lower energy consumption. However, this requires the transition from laboratory to industrial application, which is often the most difficult step.

Innogy Doubles Number of Electric Cars in Poland

Granted: Poland is not exactly known as a green EU country. But thanks to the German energy giant Innogy this could soon change. The RWE subsidiary is launching a project with 500 BMW i3 in Warsaw in April. At the same time, Innogy is doubling the number of charging stations in the Polish capital from 30 to 60. In addition, the company promises to add several hundred more in the next two years, in cooperation with a Polish bank and the Warsaw City Council.

“As a pioneer in electromobility, Innogy is also driving this topic forward internationally”, said board member Martin Herrmann in a press release, adding: “…With this trend-setting project, we are making environmentally friendly electromobility a tangible experience for all.” According to an Innogy spokesperson, the project will initially only be implemented in Warsaw: “In other Central European countries we have no plans of this magnitude for the time being. But what we are doing – for example, to companies in the Czech Republic – is offering concepts for electric cars.”

Norway at the Top

For Poland, the Innogy project represents an enormous advance in electric mobility. At the end of 2018, the country was lagging far behind the European environment with only 625 licensed electric cars. Although the 500 BMW i3s will almost double this figure in one fell swoop, Poland is still at the bottom end of the scale when it comes to electric mobility in Europe. In 2018, for example, there were more than 36,000 electric cars in circulation in Germany, 24,000 in the Netherlands and more than 46,000 in Norway.

10 Percent of Car Sharing Cars in Germany are Electrically Powered

The example of Germany shows that e-mobility can be boosted by car sharing. After all, around 10 percent of the more than 20,000 German community cars are powered by electric motors as hybrids or completely electrically. The German Carsharing Associationexplains this high percentage with the fact that the 2.46 million carsharing customers are more eager to experiment than the typical car owner in Germany.

In the Netherlands, the share of electric cars in car sharing is somewhat lower. According to the latest figures from the organization CROW-KpVV, there were 41,000 community cars at the beginning of 2018, of which 6.4 percent were half powered as plug-ins or all-electric.

Charging station at Aldi with Innogy technology © Innogy

Innogy at the Forefront of Infrastructure

Innogy is only a small player in Germany when it comes to e-vehicles. With a total of 20 cars, the Essen-based group is far away from the market leaders Daimler and BMW – which operate 20,000 vehicles worldwide with their merger combination Car2Go and Drive Now. But Innogy is the market leader in the German infrastructure with 7500 charging stations, of which about 3500 are private and about 4000 public.

The limited number of public charging stations in Germany is often seen as an obstacle to the breakthrough of the electric car. At the end of last year, the entire country had a total of 16,100 charging stations. It is expected that this number will increase rapidly in the coming years due to various new initiatives.

For example, the supermarket chains Lidl and Aldi are setting up their own charging infrastructure in Germany. In addition, people are eagerly awaiting what Volkswagen will do with its specially founded subsidiary Elli. There are also major plans from global companies such as Shell – with its subsidiary New Motion – and Charge Point. The latter is a start-up supported by large German companies such as Siemens, Daimler and BMW.

According to the National Platform for Electric Mobility (NPE), these initiatives are urgently needed. The consultancy assumes that by 2022, Germany will exceed the one million mark for electric cars. Since one charging station is needed for every ten cars, this means that there should be about 100,000 charging stations in three years.

‘Tequila bacteria’ used for producing medicinal weed

Farmako, a Frankfurt-based pharmaceutical startup company, has discovered a new way to produce cannabinoid using genetically modified bacteria that convert sugar into the active ingredients of the cannabis plant. Farmako applied to the European Patent Office for a patent in February, the company announced.

According to spokesman Victoria Schneider, the company aims to respond to the rapidly growing demand for cannabinoids for medical use. Founder and CEO Niklas Kouparanis (29) speaks of a “revolution” within the pharmaceutical industry. The active ingredients in cannabis such as THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are currently almost exclusively extracted from the flowers of weed plants. However, several universities and companies are trying to synthetically produce the medically active ingredients of the plant. Farmako is among the first to succeed in this.

The Farmako-team

They are not the first ones, though. Two American companies managed to produce cannabinoids with the help of brewer’s yeast. But according to molecular biologist and Farmako co-founder Patrick Schmitt (26) this technique is expensive and difficult to convert into industrial production. With the Farmako bacteria this should be a lot easier.

BRINGING MALARIA INTO THE MIX

The bacterium Farmako uses is also known as the “tequila bacterium” because it is used in the production of the famous Mexican alcoholic drink. The official name is zymomonas mobilis. Farmako has genetically modified this bacterium by adding genes from the malaria parasite and removing other pieces of genetic material.

According to spokesman Schneider, the potential possibilities are enormous. In Europe there are several countries that have legalised pharmaceutical cannabis, including Germany, Denmark and Great Britain. Canada has a market of €30 billion. Consultant Prohibition Partners estimates that, for Europe, the market will have grown to €58 billion by 2028. According to Schneider, customers will also benefit. The costs of medical cannabis will be reduced, while the supply will be increased, she says.

Farmako is only a year old and employs nearly 40 people. The company is aiming to start producing synthetic cannabis in the second half of this year. The company further profits from “regular” trade in medical cannabis, such as CBD oil. Their aim is to become a European market leader. Earlier this month they made a deal with the Polish company Pharmacann to import 50 tons of marijuana flowers and weed oil over a period of four years. German pharmacies are currently still importing a large number of cannabis pharmaceuticals from the Netherlands and Canada.

Besides Kouparinis and Schmitt, Sebastian Diemer is involved in the company as a financer. Diemer is a well-known member of the Berlin startup community, having several startups to his name and living an exuberant lifestyle. He reportedly sold one of the companies he founded, Kreditech, for several millions.

Prague gets new European Institute for Artificial Intelligence

The Czech Republic will get a new Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (AI). Following two years of negotiations, the Prague-based Institute of Computer Science, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC) was awarded the contract for the European RICAIP project (Research and Innovation Centre on Advanced Industrial Production). The center’s scientists will focus on the use of AI in industrial processes.

As the CIIRC announced at the end of last week, the contract is tied to an EU funding of 45 million Euros. The Czech and German governments will provide an additional 5 million Euros.

European Network for AI Research

According to Vladimir Marik, Scientific Director of the CIIRC, the new research center will be built in close cooperation with another Czech institute, CEITEC in Brno, and the German Centre for Mechatronics and Automation in Saarbrücken (ZeMa). As for ZeMa, this means the expansion of a partnership in the field of “Industry 4.0” that has existed since 2016.

In addition, the new research center will be virtually linked to a whole series of European scientific centers dealing with the use of AI in industrial processes. This is a prerequisite for the EU.

Robots per 10.000 employees, IFR

“We have set ourselves the specific goal of having a center within six years that is capable of setting up experimental robotized production lines for interested companies from all over the world,” Marik told the CTK press agency. Marik expects the CIIRC to be financially independent within four years.

Trend towards more industrial robots

The new research center in Prague follows the worldwide trend towards more and more robots in the production process. Only last week, the International Association for Robotics (IFR) announced that South Korea, with its large automotive industry and 710 robots per 10,000 people, is the current leader.

With 658 robots, Singapore is in second place, Germany is third with 322. With about 160 robots, the Netherlands are mid-table. The automotive industry is the all over leader with 1,200 robots per 10,000 employees.