Two ex-Lightyear employees present budget solar car for city use

Munich already had its own budget solar car, so today a Dutch version will be added especially designed for the city: the Squad (solar quad). The idea came from two former Lightyear employees who wanted to design an affordable solar car for a large group of consumers.

Two passengers can sit next to each other in this 45 km/h solar car and there is enough space for luggage in the boot. The Squad combines the practical convenience of a scooter with the comfort and stability of a city car. Sheet metal and doors have been omitted in order to make the car as light and cheap as possible. The Squad costs almost €6,000.

More about solar cars can be found here.

The solar car can automatically charge up to 9,000 kilometers per year using its own sunroof. This is all it takes for users to drive 30 kilometers or about an hour emission-free every day, according to Squad Mobility’s CEO Robert Hoevers. “Most vehicles in this segment don’t drive much more than 6,000 kilometers each year. But if users need extra range, it can be recharged directly from a regular power outlet. Fully charged, you could drive up to 100 kilometers. Consumers can also opt to order additional battery packs for more range.”

Old cities need new solutions

In Hoevers’ opinion, emissions and congestion are the biggest problems associated with urban mobility. “Our old cities are not equipped for cars. In the Netherlands, we are seeing a trend towards further urbanization, with 90% of city dwellers living in suburbs and surrounding areas. All of these people like to go to the city regularly. For work, school, going out or shopping. This is not feasible in the end. Public transport and cycling are excellent solutions, yet they’re not a good alternative for everyone. For instance when it rains or if you live far from a bus stop or station.”

Parked cars take about 10 square meters of space, he says, while a Squad only needs 2 square meters. ” You can park five Squads on the same spot as one car, crosswise on a parking lot. You don’t have to take open doors into account when parking, that saves space.”

Hoevers works together with Chris Klok and is responsible for the design of the solar car. Together they have more than 40 years of experience in mobility. From scooters to motorcycles, the FIA Formula E, solar cars and even flying cars. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the design of the Squad. The compact dimensions were a major challenge. We wanted to move away from the ‘archetypal car’ in which people move through the city in a small closed-off cage. The objective was to create a more social, interactive experience whereby passengers are involved in the social setting of their urban environment while experiencing comfort and protection from the elements. A complete roll cage with seatbelts and the stability of 4 wheels provide maximum safety for all passengers. Helmets aren’t necessary.”

From A to B quickly, easily, safely

The Squad solar car has also been designed with shared services platforms in mind. Hoevers: “Users of these platforms want to get safely from A to B quickly and easily. Cities are looking for solutions with a minimal use of limited space and the lowest emissions. Automatic charging on solar energy is of course ideal for a shared services platform. The portable, interchangeable batteries minimize the ‘downtime’ that the Squad experiences when charging. In addition, its ruggedness, sturdiness and low maintenance levels are key demands in this market.” Subscription and lease options will be offered from 2020 onward. The aim is to keep the lease price below 100 euros per month.

At the same time, the company is also launching a variant with extra space in the boot and is thinking about releasing an 80km/h version in the future.

Best read: Professor says – ‘Don’t panic about the rise in sea levels’

Soaking wet feet through flooded streets. We are increasingly faced with heavy rains or periods of drought as a result of climate change. The municipality of Eindhoven is taking all kinds of measures to mitigate flooding. Last week’s best-read article featured a measurement tool developed by the municipality to figure out how much water building constructors need to divert from new buildings in order to reduce the risk of flooding. The municipality of Eindhoven is also addressing problem areas with new water storage systems aimed at reducing the disruption caused by heavy downpours.

Great, all these measures, but they won’t help you if The Netherlands floods. There is the idea among some sea-level experts that unstable ice sheets cause the sea level to rise faster than is presently thought to be the case. But according to Bas Jonk, professor of hydraulic engineering at Delft University of Technology, at the moment we will be able to technically cope with a rise in sea level of 1 to 2 meters. “It is expected that the water will rise by 20 to 30 centimeters by 2050. This is not a problem right now. We could raise dikes and replace storm surge barriers as the water rises.”

According to the professor, the Netherlands has things pretty much under control when it comes to flood protection: “Many flood barriers have been designed with an increase of 1 meter in mind. Every year, the government invests around 1 billion euros in flood protection. Which is something we can maintain and that’s a good thing. Compare it with other countries – there are plenty of areas in the United States that are not yet well-protected so they still have a long way to go. Thought is being given to constructing dikes or taking other measures over there now.”

Not acting is not an option

He gets that the Dutch are worried. However, there is no need for panic. “60 % of The Netherlands is low-lying and vulnerable to flooding. This can have many consequences. So yes, that concern is justified. But you should put it in perspective. Between now and 2050, the sea level will rise by a maximum of 30 centimeters, only after that will it rise faster. The threshold of 2.5 to 5 meters will probably not be reached until the 22nd century. This means that we still have ample time to see what can be done technically. Nor would it be a bad idea at all to raise that budget by 2050 from 1 billion to 2, maybe even 3 billion euros a year.”

The Maeslandkering storm surge barrier near Rotterdam is designed to close about twice a year. If the sea level rises above 1 meter, this barrier would then have to close every day. This is far from ideal because ships will no longer be able to sail freely. And the Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier will also have to close every week if the sea level rises that much. This in turn will have negative repercussions on the wildlife environs.

Dams, dikes and drainage

“That’s why it’s good to think about alternatives now. Start by figuring out and planning what is needed to replace these barriers. What happens to the area if you build a permanent dam? Perhaps a new flood barrier would be a better idea. This involves a lot of work and the implications are considerable. These are expensive projects that have an impact on the environment and the economy. Planning and all the procedures surrounding these projects take up a lot of time. This is where the biggest challenge lies for the time being,” Jonkman explains.

In Jonkman’s opinion, we are more likely to be affected by other climate factors, such as heavy rainfall and temperature hikes accompanied by drought. “Recently a report was published by Deltares (a Dutch research institute) on this and their conclusion is that rising sea levels have not accelerated. Even though we are already suffering from drier summers. e.g. rivers are becoming less navigable as a result of low levels. Drought is endangering constructions built on piles and dikes. And in cities there is heat stress to contend with. In some places, drainage of water after heavy rainfall is also a problem.”

Advancing innovation, also outside of The Netherlands

Not only the Netherlands suffers from heat stress, drought or heavy rains. This is why various partners from fifteen different countries within the European Union are working on local solutions to climate-related problems. Brigaid helps entrepreneurs and inventors to flesh out their ideas. Bas Jonkman is also busy with this on behalf of TU Delft. “Often you see that innovations are difficult to get off the ground. Not much is put into practice. We want to support innovators in advancing their innovations through this project,” the professor explains.

The EU project runs until April 2020 and so far, Jonkman has already seen solutions from twenty different European countries. From a smart green roof in Antwerp that retains water during heavy rainfall and releases it during drought, to solutions for water basins in Spain where the water evaporates at high temperatures. “In Romania there is a test facility where you can test a smarter alternative to sandbags. And you are able to simulate all kinds of situations with temporary flood barriers here in Delft.”

“Furthermore, project participants receive advice with regard to the technical side and help with building a business case. Another objective is to boost education and research. Students who are doing an internship or are in the process of graduating are able to participate in various projects. You bring each other further this way.”

Don’t forget the hardware, you can’t build a smart city solely on dreams

The annual Smart City Expo World Congress is taking place in Barcelona. It is the largest in its field with 25,000 visitors. The motto of this edition is Cities made of dreams. Nevertheless, all those dreams also involve a whole lot of hardware.

Dreams are wonderful. But 5G doesn’t just happen, as the people who are responsible for laying the infrastructure are well aware of. “All those 5G antennas that will soon provide super-fast connections will also have to be connected to fiber-optic cables below the ground,” says Petra Claessen at the Smart City congress in Barcelona, She’s the director of BTG, the Dutch branch association for ICT. “In order to avoid having to break open the sidewalk three times in the future, a law must be quickly put in place to ensure that the mobile network operators will share their infrastructure.”

The BTG has come up with a uniform standard that should ultimately lead to legislation, but it is hasn’t gotten that far yet. The three major providers -KPN, T-Mobile and VodafoneZiggo – are currently all building their own transmission masts. Given that 5G requires many more masts, the BTG acknowledges that this will be a never-ending task. “The operators should be able to share the costs in the future.”

Not solely on dreams

Smart Cities are fabulous. However cities can’t be built solely on dreams, as they all know at the BTG. “This also requires a lot of hardware. Lampposts of the future will become multifunctional. In addition to light, there will also be Wi-Fi, and possibly power for electric cars. At the moment, the population is insufficiently informed about what is coming their way. Smart cities are going to matter a lot as far as infrastructure is concerned.”

Also read: Don’t develop technologies which won’t solve any real problems

According to Irene van Bruines (from the brand new procurement platform Smart City Plaza) a lot of missionary work also needs to be done in the municipalities. “In a certain municipality, they have already come a long way with smart street fixtures. But in another municipality, a public servant put it quite bluntly: ‘I don’t want any gimmicks on my patch.’ In that respect, there is still so much that has to be done.”

Bruines, who has a long career in construction and infrastructure, now makes it very easy for municipal purchasers by providing a complete, independent, overview of products for smart cities through her platform. From sensors to charging stations and from solar-powered rubbish bins to ultra-quiet wind turbines, Smart City Plaza offers it all. The only thing municipalities have to do is subscribe to this gift guide for smart city officials.

Rotterdam designs a modular streetlamp

The city officials of Rotterdam no longer need to be told anything more about smart cities. It’ s buzzing with ambition in the Maasstad, which this year almost clinched the ‘Innovation Capital of Europe‘ award. The city aims to be a model digital city by 2025.

One of the projects that fit in with this, was the design of a smart lamppost. The city has developed CENT-R, a modular lamppost, together with start-up Lightwell, the Da Vinci College in Dordrecht, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and the manufacturer Valmont. The CENT-R (Connective Energy Network Tool – Rotterdam) prototype was finished just in time for the expo in Barcelona and was unveiled there. In addition to 5G, electric charging, cameras and lighting, the lamppost can also be retrofitted to accommodate any future innovations. Three smart poles will be put into use in the Rotterdam district of Reyeroord towards the end of next January.

European Commissioner Timmermans wants CO2 tax at the EU’s outer border

CO2 uitstoot schoorstenen

Dutch European Commissioner Frans Timmermans (who will be responsible for climate issues) wants to introduce a CO2 tax at the outer border of the European Union. This is in order to avoid products that have not been manufactured in a climate-neutral way. He announced this measure during his approval hearing at the European Parliament. There they are appointing the new European Commission which will take up office next month. According to Timmermans, this is the only way to get the European climate law passed which he is to present this spring. The exact date on which this border tax is to come into effect should be revealed in this climate law. It will apply to all Member States.

A 55% reduction by 2030

This climate law ought to include information on how the Member States will make their economies climate-neutral. CO2 emissions must be reduced by 55% by 2030, Timmermans announced. That is 10% more than what was originally agreed to. By 2050, CO2 emissions need to zero out on balance. With that commitment, in two weeks’ time he will start his mandate as European Commissioner for Climate Change. His most important task will be to deliver a so-called ‘Green Deal’. The new climate law is an important part of this. Along with that, he wants to overhaul legislation on greenhouse gas emissions and energy.

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans announces the CO2 border tax in the European Parliament Image: still live streaming

The problem is not that achieving CO2-neutral production is not technically possible, says Erik Klooster. He is managing director of VNPI, a Dutch association which brings together the major petrochemical companies (together with the chemical and metal industries, who are the main producers of CO2), such as Shell and Esso. “It is,” he states. The problem is that making the industry CO2-neutral makes manufacturing much more expensive. This makes the industry less competitive compared to industry in countries that are not implementing any climate measures. If there is no such border tax, European industry will be forced out of business. “Esso has been calling for this kind of carbon adjustment or carbon border tax for years,” says Klooster. “It is the only way to make Europe climate-neutral.”

A leading role

That is also what Commissioner Timmermans told the European Parliament, who will have to approve his new climate legislation next year. “We shouldn’t want to bring in products that are cheaper because they have not taken the environment into account. I think that such a CO2 border tax will be subject to an assessment from the WTO. If, for example, a country such as China or India also starts to produce in a CO2-neutral way, we will drop that tax on their products.”

Also read: Former Secretary of State of the United States: Quadruple the CO2 price and let the polluter pay

Empty gas fields

That’s also the purpose of such a levy, says Klooster. “The EU’s share in global CO2 emissions is relatively small. So we don’t have to do it for that sake.” The EU, and the Netherlands in particular, can play an important pioneering role by involving other countries in the world such (as India and China) in the production of clean energy. “Industry in the Netherlands is geographically close to each other. There are enough empty gas fields available in the next few decades for storing CO2 that has been emitted and captured. It is therefore cheaper to build a pipeline for CO2 transport to an empty gas field than it is in England, for example. Industry is scattered all over the country there.

Extracting CO2 from air

Another method of achieving CO2-neutral production is to capture the greenhouse gas and bind it to hydrogen via a chemical process. This creates a synthetic fuel that can be reused. This is also a way to ensure that aircraft that don’t fly electrically and therefore continue to emit CO2 will still be able to operate in a climate-neutral way, says Klooster. “You can extract the amount of CO2 that an aircraft produces out of the air, and then store or process it.”

Also read: Aviation industry to European Commission: ‘money is needed to develop zero-emission aircraft’

National Parliaments

The question is whether national parliaments are prepared to sign the climate legislation that Timmermans will be proposing. For example, the Polish Member of the European Parliament Anna Zalewska ( from the Conservatives and Reformists faction) said at the Timmermans hearing prior to his appointment as European Commissioner for Climate last month, that she feared it would destroy Polish industry. Much of it runs on coal. “Hundreds of billions of euros are needed to make the transition possible. We just don’t have that.”

Euro-parliamentarian Anna Zalewska, from the Conservatives and Reformists faction, says that Poland does not have enough money to abandon coal.

Money for Poland en Greece

Timmermans replied that money had to be sent to countries such as Poland and Greece because they are unable to pay for the energy transition themselves. “My grandparents were miners in Heerlen. When the mines were still open, Heerlen was the second richest city in the Netherlands. After the closure of the mines, Heerlen changed into one of the poorest municipalities in the Netherlands. We must make sure that we prevent this from happening in the European regions that are currently dependent on coal.”

Also read: BMW Director: ‘Make recharging electric cars as easy as recharging smartphones’

Timmermans stressed that there is absolutely no future for the coal industry. He wants to work together with national and local authorities, the European Investment Bank and make use of existing EU funds for this transition by diverting them towards making the EU climate-neutral.

Cost: 200 billion euros per year

An important part of the money needed to make poor, coal-dependent regions climate-neutral should come from richer EU countries such as The Netherlands and Germany. Their national parliaments must approve the new climate law, including the redistribution of financial resources. Commissioner Timmermans predicted that it would take in total €200 billion a year over the next five years to make the EU climate-neutral. “But the Member States are almost as stingy as the Dutch,” he said. “They have to open their wallets.”

Smart City Business Forum: Don’t develop technologies which won’t solve any real problems

Smart Cities are hot. This week a large delegation of Dutch civil servants and entrepreneurs is in Barcelona for the world’s largest congress on this subject. Today there were 466 participants from 24 countries at the International Smart City Business Forum which was organized by The Netherlands and by the Scandinavian countries.

In a recent podcast made by Innovation Origins for Dutch Design Week, director Rob Adams of the Eindhoven-based Six Fingers agency said that he despised the term ‘Smart Cities.’ “Because when we talk about Smart Cities, it’s just all about technology,” Adams said. “And people don’t feel happier as a result of lots of technology. It’s really a matter of solving real problems in people’s lives.”

Ecosystems, not ego-systems

While Adams was absent, there was reason enough to listen more critically to the statements made by the speakers at the business forum. For instance, to Frans Vermast, Ambassador of Amsterdam Smart Cities and a world authority in this field. “Cities are ecosystems and not ego-systems” is one of his slogans. In his presentation at the congress he discussed a variety of successful and less successful experiments with ‘smart technology’.

Vermast is not afraid of sharing failures either. “This is the only way we will be able to share lessons learned and prevent other cities from making the same mistakes.”

Zeynep Sarilar, chairperson at Itea, the Eindhoven-based European innovation program for the software industry, is similarly down-to-earth. “We need innovative solutions that are driven by real problems. That is something you will only find out if you talk to people.” Sarilar advocates more cooperation between scientists and companies that develop technologies of this kind. She talks about global solutions which provide a better future for our children.

No Big Tech

Today’s speakers are certainly not the representatives from Big Tech. Instead, they work for municipalities, universities or more idealistic companies that are committed to sustainable development. There is a panel discussion on the question of who should be the owner of your data. This is topical, as cities are storing more and more data. Cooperation between The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, as well as between The Netherlands and the US, is also high on the agenda.

“The important thing is that we all should try to find solutions for the future,” says Magnus Agerström, managing director of Cleantech Scandinavia, one of the organizers. “And there’s no point in all of us trying to find out everything. One country may be good at one thing and another may be good at something else. If we work together more closely, we will be able to accomplish global innovations.”

Smart Cities are where targets are brought together

Merei Wagenaar, deputy director of international entrepreneurship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says things with a more business-like tone. “Our goal is to help Dutch companies do business abroad. We see it as a challenge that companies actually achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development targets. Many of these targets are brought together in Smart Cities. That’s why we think we should be here with lots of Dutch companies. That way, we can discuss what solutions are needed which will help municipalities achieve their targets. Not just in the Netherlands, but all over the world.”

The Dutch ambassador to Spain, Jan Versteeg, sums it up succinctly in a closing statement. “Over the next 30 years, more than 2.5 billion city dwellers will be added worldwide. So the world will look a bit more like The Netherlands. However, there will also be more problems like air pollution. What we need are innovative solutions in order to deal with these challenges.”

Not just with state funding

Would Rob Adams from Six Fingers have been satisfied with the presentations? In contrast to what he was concerned about, it was not solely about technology. Above all, it was about solving real problems for real people. Yet in the real world, problems also need to be financed. And this is unlikely to be possible with state funding alone. Data companies are also seeing their market grow due to the many interesting smart city projects that will emerge over the coming years.

That’s why deputy mayor Cathalijne Dortmans promised that Brainport Smart City District (the smartest district in the Netherlands, which is being built within her municipal borders) will be given a solid ethical committee. “And we expect and hope that this will keep us up to speed. It should only be the citizens themselves who decide what happens to their data.”

‘Cybernetic news’: the automated newsroom is the future of journalism

According to Reuters, we are heading for a Cybernetic Newsroom: an editorial room where robots and journalists reinforce each other. A view that Jorge Alves Lino, Fontys Lector Media, Interaction and Narration, fully endorses. In the study De Automatische Nieuwsredactie (The Automated Newsroom), Alves Lino worked together with Tilburg University and De Persgroep over the past four years on the robot journalism system PASS, which allows automatic football reports to be produced.

The four-year research project PASS focuses primarily on football journalism. “Hundreds of amateur games are played every week. Journalists can barely report on all of them, while news consumers do need frequent updates. Our system can support this,” says Alves Lino. The Personalised Automated Soccer System (PASS) can process the data from matches into an easily readable text. “This makes PASS a welcome addition for the editorial staff.”


PASS: Personalised Automated Soccer Text System (English) from Jorge Alves Lino on Vimeo.

Professor Dr Emiel Krahmer from Tilburg University also sees a growing interest in robot journalism. “The rise of automated text systems is definitely a great opportunity to get away from the boring stuff and spend more time on the interesting topics we want to find out about. From day one, future journalists should learn about the problems and opportunities that exist in the field of automated newsrooms and robot journalism.”

Moreover, according to Alves Lino, thinking about robot journalism is slowly changing. “Where for a long time fear prevailed that robots would take over the journalistic work, we now see that more and more editors are exploring the possibilities of automatic text systems.”

According to the lecturer, it is crucial that journalists play a role in the development and implementation of these systems. Only if they are able to work with them properly and see their added value, will this be a success. In the development of PASS, journalists from De Persgroep have therefore cooperated in the development and improvement of the system from the very beginning.

Finally, news consumers have also played a role in the study. Alves Lino: “Do readers want text written by automatic systems? Do they find that reliable? We soon found out that context is extremely important. You can’t just produce articles based on raw data, that’s too ‘robotic’. People want to know if it was a nice day at a football match, what kind of atmosphere was in the stadium and how the audience reacted to striking events. In order to incorporate this into the robot journalist’s messages, we are developing a chatbot that can provide additional information. Of course, the journalists of De Persgroep are also involved in this. After all, they are the protagonists in the future cybernetic newsroom.”

Jorge Alves Lino and Emiel Krahmer will present PASS at the Beyond Media conference on 21 November in the LocHal in Tilburg. The entire programme can be found on the Beyond Media website.

We can give away five free tickets by sending an e-mail to The first five entries will be returned with a ticket by e-mail.

Car sharing, smaller batteries and better recycling needed to compensate for the nearing shortage of rare metals

amber oplaadpaal opladen

In order to be able to drive electrically, various rare metals are required. This will cause a problem in the near future. Replacing these metals with other raw materials can reduce our dependence. This is the simplest solution for society, but it is not technically feasible in the short term. That is why a shift will have to take place towards electric shared cars, cars with a smaller battery and better recycling. That’s what the report ‘Metaalvraag van Elektrisch Vervoer‘ by environmental scientist Benjamin Sprecher of Leiden University and organisations Copper8 and Metabolic concludes.

Current global production of some critical metals is reported to be insufficient for the large-scale shift to electric transport. Calculations for the Netherlands show that on the basis of a ‘fair share’ of the metal supply, the country could have no more than one million electric cars by 2030. However, in order to achieve the country’s climate targets, twice as many electric cars will have to be available. There are currently some 171,000 electric cars on the road in the Netherlands.

A number of specific metals that are crucial for electric vehicles – nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, cobalt, dysprosium and lithium – appear to be in short supply. In addition, these metals are also needed for other applications, such as solar panels, wind turbines and consumer electronics.

The “identified reserves” of the required metals are often sufficient. “However, this is not relevant, as availability is limited by production capacity. This production capacity has technical, economic and social limits.” In addition, geopolitical conditions may play a role in the availability of these metals. “Scarcity leads to increased competition, both between applications and between countries. Due to growing global demand for critical metals, the likelihood of geopolitical problems increases every year. Shortages or interruptions in the supply of critical metals can slow down the development of electric transport: something that we cannot use in our climate task.”

The researchers have six recommendations:

  1. Focus on new mobility concepts with fewer vehicles
  2. Invest in future-proof infrastructure and prevent lock-ins
  3. Encourage electric vehicles with small batteries for regional solutions
  4. Develop a Dutch critical metals recycling industry
  5. Support sustainable mining initiatives to minimise the impact on people and the environment
  6. Encourage the development of new battery types at European level
Critical metals needed for electric vehicles in the Netherlands, as a percentage of the worldwide annual production of these critical metals in 2020, 2025 and 2030. © Leiden University

“Let me start by saying that we are definitely not against the introduction of electric cars”, says Benjamin Sprecher, a researcher at the Centre for Environmental Sciences Leiden. “The transition to electric transport is important. However, we must be aware that this policy is not without consequences.” He explains, for example, that a greater demand for critical metals – which are also needed for solar panels and wind turbines – can be detrimental to nature. “Increased demand inevitably leads to the construction of new mines. In order to prevent inconvenience to humans, these will be located in remote areas, at the expense of already scarce nature reserves. We must be aware of this and ensure more sustainable mining.”

But that’s not enough, says Sprecher. “We consume an awful lot, so much so that it is no longer enough for us to have one earth. In the case of electric cars too, it is important that we look at ways to reduce the number of cars. Think of shared cars and better public transport.” Other solutions, such as new technologies that are less dependent on critical metals or the use of smaller batteries, are much less effective, but easier to implement.

Three scenarios for limiting the metal demand for electric transport. Scenario 1 looks at new battery technologies: socially simple, but technically unrealistic in the short term. Scenario 2 examines smaller batteries: this results in less range, but also in fewer metals. However, the effectiveness of this approach appears to be limited. Scenario 3 is by far the most effective, but also socially the most complex: by making more effective use of electric vehicles, fewer vehicles are needed and therefore also fewer metals. © Leiden University
Distribution of the production of metals for electric cars. © Leiden University

Best read: why a German-Flemish-Dutch megacity is not such a good idea

More and more people are moving into the city. In fact, in the coming years megacities are emerging where more than thirty million people live and work. It is by no means inconceivable that between now and 2025 about 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in these kinds of metropolises. With a population of 150,000 on average, Dutch cities cannot compete with this size. In order to keep its head above water, The Netherlands would do well to form a block together with Flanders and the German Ruhr region. Peter Savelberg, the innovator behind this Tristate City model, explained in last week’s best-read article how he envisages this. Savelberg believes that with a total of more than forty million inhabitants and know-how and a high level of prosperity and welfare, this block would be capable of competing with world cities such as Hong Kong.

A bad idea?

A bad idea according to Zef Hemel, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Amsterdam: “From an economic point of view, this kind of a metropolis is not at all attractive. Moreover, this urban model is not sustainable. An average Dutch person emits far more CO2 than someone in Hong Kong. There they use the metro to do everything, while here we travel plenty of kilometers by car. We have also lost out in the area of public transport, as we do not have a national metro network. The metropolitan area of Los Angeles does have that and it has about as many inhabitants as the Netherlands.”

Hemel clarifies that the idea which sees The Netherlands is one big city is not new. “Prime Minister Wim Kok was already saying that back in the mid 1990s. The national road network had just been completed and everyone could suddenly cross the country at high speed in just two or three hours.” The idea was that with the completion of the road network (and the simultaneous advent of the internet), it no longer mattered where someone was located. “But the opposite is true. This is the paradox we find ourselves in. More centralization has taken place since the completion of the national road network and the establishment of the internet. The pull factor of the center, referred to in The Netherlands as the Randstad, has only increased due to improved accessibility. Everyone wants to be a part of it.”

Inner cities are no longer bustling

As an example, Hemel mentions the move since the early 1990s of various head offices out of the provinces into Amsterdam. Perhaps the best-known example is Philips, which moved from Eindhoven to the main city in 1993. ” Concentration has increased since the 1990s. Research has shown that many city centers are no longer bustling, shops are empty and young people are moving to the Randstad because ‘that’s where it’s happening’.

This phenomenon is also seen in the healthcare sector. By merging hospitals, more and more towards the big city, regions are experiencing problems. The 45 minute standard for ambulances to get to a primary care center is under pressure and patients outside the Randstad have to travel further to get to a good hospital”.

University = diversity

When it comes to innovation, Hemel also does not see any advantage for The Netherlands in being one big city: “Cities play an important role in the knowledge economy. A good university with laboratories and researchers on a campus is not enough.

In America, you have college towns where the talent leaves after graduation. It only becomes interesting if a university is embedded in the metropolitan area. That’s when a university can profit from its proximity and from the availability of complex ecosystems. In New York you have Columbia, Cornell-Tech and NYU. These universities are among the best in the world. You can also see this reflected lower down the rankings, as there are state universities like the City University of New York (CUNY) that perform better than Dutch universities. That’s because they all benefit from New York’s diversity and critical mass. More people and widespread use of public transport. Fewer kilometers of traffic jams, because everyone uses the metro network.”

Hemel believes that there The Netherlands lacks the mentality to think in terms of a metropolis: “We don’t like it when people are banging their own drums like that. There’s the dutch saying: ‘Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg‘ – (which means ‘act normal, that’s crazy enough.’ Comparable to ‘don’t stick your neck out’, ed.) The same goes for the universities. There is less tension and less variance between universities here. But that’s what is necessary in order to move forward.”

Acceptance is still a long way off

Spatial concentration is not just confined to the Netherlands: “In the past, we mistakenly thought that this only happened in developing countries. But it is also happening in France, Switzerland, Great Britain and Canada. Toronto has a strong magnetic pull in Canada. I think that we should not keep on resisting this, but should accept this phenomenon. That’s how we can prepare for it.”

But the professor has seldom seen that acceptance as yet. According to him, various ministries in the Netherlands are doing everything in their power to turn the tide.

“The government is trying to promote the spread of urban development outside of the main cities as much as possible through all kinds of regional programs. I can count a considerable number of initiatives to help the regions grow and move forward. It would be more sensible in terms of sustainability to accept that networking leads to greater spatial concentration. Seeing the Netherlands as one big city is possible, but we shouldn’t think that this will even everything out.” Hemel is convinced that this model will inevitably lead to major differences between urban and rural areas. Hemel: “It is an illusion that we would be able to keep residents in one big, country-wide, highly disparate and fragmented city.”

Start-up of the day: Solar panels for DIY-ers – plug it in and you’re good to go!

The Supersola plug-in solar panel may be a nightmare for the installation industry. But this new gadget on the market is not that at all for the consumer who prefers to do as many chores around the home as possible by themselves. It will be up for sale next year. “Then anyone who can connect a plug to a wall socket can install a solar panel on their own,” says Julius Smith, founder of Supersola in Delft.

What was it that motivated you to set up Supersola and what problem did it resolve?

“About 10 years ago I first started working and began in the renewable energy sector. In other words, sustainable energy. Then I found out that the sales of solar panels were slower than we had expected at the company which I was working for back then. The question was why. That’s what I then looked into. It turned out that the majority of the Dutch population really wanted to generate their own solar energy. However, lots of people decided against buying panels in the end. It was often the case that when people did buy solar panels, they only did so a year after having decided that they wanted them.

The reason for this long period of reflection turned out to be that consumers aren’t able to easily find all the information they need in order to find a suitable installer. They also often don’t know which solar panels to buy, and what other products they need to connect them to. Not all components of all brands are compatible, and not all systems are the same. That makes the choice difficult. I then realized that I wanted to design a ready-made panel that consumers could buy with all the necessary parts already on it. So that you get a panel where you only have to plug the attached cord into a socket.”

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“When I told the suppliers of all those various parts that I wanted to make and sell a plug-in solar panel with everything on it, they would always say: ‘it can’t be done’. The entire solar panel supply chain is geared towards the installation sector. Whereas I want to bring this product to the consumer electronics market ready-to-use. That sometimes made it difficult when it came to getting cooperation.”


What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That was at the beginning of 2018 when we sold a hundred ready-to-use plug-in solar panels as part of a pilot project. They cost €700 each. Some of them were sold via our own website following a campaign on Facebook. While others were sold via Sungevity, a supplier of solar panels. Only one of those hundred had problems. The power cord was damaged when a windstorm blew through the village of that particular customer. We then sent them a new cable. That fixed the problem.”

What can we expect from Supersola in the coming year?

“That’s when we start selling the first commercial version of the plug-in solar panel. Initially through our own web shop. And we are also working on contracting other parties who are willing to sell our product. That’s not quite finalized as yet. Next year we want to focus on the Dutch market. After that, we plan to go abroad.”

Where do you want Supersola to be in the next five years? What is your ultimate goal?

“We want to be available in Europe and the United States by then.”

What does Supersola’s innovation do better when compared to other products on this segment of the market?

“If all consumers could buy our product, then there’s no longer a hitch when it comes to buying solar panels. You can start with one panel. You don’t have to spend more than €600 or €700. At the moment, installing solar panels costs so much more because you have to bring in an installer. Plus, you have to have more than one panel installed in order to recoup those costs. You’ll end up paying €5000. This would not be the case with our system. You can do it all yourself.”

[UPDATE] How we can lower the risk of antimicrobial resistance

An ever-increasing proportion of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Overuse or misuse of antibiotics causes bacteria to become immune to them. This is the reason why antibiotics no longer work effectively against infections in human beings. A faster method for identifying which bacteria a patient is suffering from will lower the risk of antimicrobial resistance.  The iGEM student team at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), has designed a system that can do this. The team was ranked in the top three during the iGEM competition in Boston, America.

iGEM stands for international Genetically Engineered Machine, in a nutshell, everything that has to do with synthetic biology. This year, 377 teams from all over the world will take part in the competition. They have all been doing research on solutions to social problems from a biology angle. The Eindhoven team has focused on how we can lower the risk of antimicrobial resistance. A growing problem which currently there isn’t a solution for. “Developing a new antibiotic takes a lot of time, often decades. We don’t have that much time. That is why we have devised a detection system,” Yvonne van Mil explains.

“The competition is very broad, so it’s very difficult to compare projects with each other,” she says. That’s why there are different categories within the competition. The Eindhoven team participated in the diagnostics category. Within this category, iGEM was one of the top three in terms of components: best poster, best measurement, best base part, best composite part and best diagnostic project.

Gold medal

In addition to the different themes, there are also different levels. For example, there is a separate category for secondary school students. Then there are two categories for students from the university. These are divided by age, above and below 23 years. In the end, one team becomes the overall winner.

Unfortunately, the Eindhoven team missed out on this title. They did win a gold medal. “This is rewarded when a team fulfils all the requirements of the competition, varying from the registration of the team to the creation of a model of the project.”

Het team tijdens de competitie in Amerika

Faster diagnosis

With their system, the students want to focus on a faster diagnosis. It takes two to three days at the moment to diagnose what kind of an infection a patient has. “During this time, a patient is often given several antibiotics before it is actually determined which one will best help,” says Van Mil. “During those two or three days, someone could become resistant to those other antibiotics that they have been given which they never needed in the first place.” After several years, people run the risk that not a single antibiotic might work anymore.

That’s why the students have developed a detection system that can diagnose someone’s infection within a few hours. “This means that doctors are able to prescribe the proper antibiotics immediately,” says the student. The system works with bacteriophages. “These are a kind of a virus for bacteria which have a high specificity. These phages bind to a specific bacterium and inject their DNA into it. The phages rapidly multiply in the bacterium, which eventually destroys the bacterium,” Van Mil explains.

A specially engineered protein then binds to the phage DNA. This sends out a light signal which it uses to determines what type of bacteria a patient is carrying. “This is then measured in a sample taken from the patient, such as their urine,” she says. The system can test the sample for various bacteria in this way.

Determining the dose                                                      

At the same time, the students are also studying whether it is possible to use the same system to find out how widespread the infection is. This means that the dosage of the antibiotics can be adjusted accordingly. “Too much or not enough antibiotics do not always produce the intended results.”

Over the past six months, the students have focused primarily on producing the protein that is needed in this process. “The tests that we did have shown that it does work,” says Van Mil. “We have not designed a device for the system as yet. The university will continue studying this in the coming months.” Such a device has to be  thoroughly tested before it can be approved for use in hospitals. “That’s going to take a few years.”

Would you like to know more about this technology? Check out iGEM’s extensive website here.

Improper use of antibiotics

The problem of antimicrobial resistance is less acute in the Netherlands than in countries such as Greece or America. “In the Netherlands, you have to see a doctor first before you get antibiotics to take home with you. In some other countries, you can just buy them at a chemist”, explains Van Mil. “People often use antibiotics when they don’t need them at all. This is how the bacteria become resistant much faster.”

University to take over the research

After the competition, the iGEM technology will be developed further at TU/e. “A professor has told us that he is interested in our technology,” says Van Mil. “One of our team members is probably going to take it on as a graduation project. We really like the fact that our idea has so much potential that the university wants to continue working on it.”

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 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: only a German-Flemish-Dutch megacity can take on the competition

Asphalt, roads, rocks, buildings – that’s how Cees Jan Pen describes Veldhoven, ASML’s home base. As an economic geographer, Pen is an independent member of the SER in the province of North Brabant and is a member of various national committees for advice on regional development. Pen is voicing his concerns about the state of Veldhoven’s city centre. In last week’s best-read article, he describes how the municipality desperately needs a vibrant heart. Not only for the native Veldhovener, but also for the expat from Taiwan.

The town needs to be revamped. A lot of catching up must be done when it comes to urban development. But isn’t Pen thinking in too narrow a way? After all, Veldhoven is part of Brainport Eindhoven, a region with 21 municipalities and about one million residents. Surely this urban area cannot compete with London (almost 9 million residents) in terms of facilities and environment?

No, says also Peter Savelberg, creator of the TristateCity model. This model merges the Netherlands, the Flemish part of Belgium and the Ruhr area in Germany into one large metropolitan region. “Over the past twenty years, people have increasingly moved to large cities as a part of urbanization. This has resulted in a vast urban agglomeration where between 15 and 30 million people live. There are around sixty of these ‘megacities’ in the world. All these cities or metropolitan areas are competing for talent and investment.”

Connecting regions

Dutch cities, which have an average population of 150,000, are far too small to engage in this struggle, according to Savelberg. “In an area like Shanghai or Mumbai where some 20 to 25 million people live, the competition between Eindhoven and Amsterdam is irrelevant. I think we should move away from competition between cities and bring together all the various strengths of the different regions. Now you see separate municipal groups travelling around the world. They are all proclaiming that they are European hotspots. A Metropolitan region of Amsterdam (which includes 32 municipalities), a cooperation between Arnhem and Nijmegen (which includes 16 peripheral municipalities, ed.), the Brainport region – and so many others can now be found. It is not my intention to upset people with this, as I know it is a sensitive issue.”

Stronger together

But still Savelberg thinks it’s a shame that regions want to widen their markets on their own. “You are much stronger together. If you start out flanked by Flanders and North Rhine-Westphalia, you can count on an area with 35 million residents. There is a lot of prosperity and wealth in this area and a in particular, a lot of knowledge. People are highly educated, and the area has 8 universities in the world’s best 100. If you look at it this way, you are in the world’s top 10 in terms of megacities.”

The only thing is how do you do that, connect regions? Should everything have to be overhauled according to the Chinese metropolitan model? “Absolutely not, the Dutch, Belgians and Germans really do not want to want to live in 100-storey skyscrapers. We are used to space, a private garden, a good barbecue and things like that. Whereas in China they do almost everything by public transport, the Dutch hop on their bicycles. But the Germans and Belgians are also doing that in growing numbers. This is not only good for sustainability, but great for everyone’s well-being too. This is only set to increase with the growth of the electric bike,” says Savelberg.

Letting go of city limits

And how is that connectedness? The good road network and the many reciprocal commerce in the area serve this purpose. Savelberg: “Despite cultural differences or language barriers, the Dutch, Belgians and Germans have managed to find a way to reach out to each other for decades. These collaborations could be stimulated even more. Universities cooperate on European projects, but it would be good if this could be done in a more structured way.”

Savelberg sees there is still too much thought being given to city centres: “Plenty of research is being done in the field of health In Maastricht. This also applies to Utrecht, where it is referred to as ‘living health’ and Groningen as ‘ageing health’. Then I would say: look at what you can do as a network for healthcare. Let go of those city limits.”

Investing in railways

That doesn’t mean we’re there yet. Even though the road network is in good shape, the railways could still use a major upgrade. Also, there aren’t as many trains between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany as you would like for such a ‘cosmopolis’. Savelberg: “Prorail has estimated that it is possible to run many more trains one after the other. In order to make this happen, we need to invest in a more effective safety system. As well as more high-speed lines are needed to improve connections between areas.”

Savelberg: “We are facing major changes; rapid technical development, the rise of data, robotization and so on. It changes the economic order and changes companies that we are currently familiar with. Perhaps in a few years’ time, the manufacturing companies as we know them today will have changed into data companies. Who knows? We want to keep looking ahead, take the next steps towards growth. The network that you assemble around you plays an important role in this.”


How seaweed contributes to sustainable food production

Seaweed. You no doubt recognize it as the green stuff that tickles your feet when you swim in the sea. That creepy stuff can help solve social problems such as the impending food shortage and the transition towards green energy. It can even contribute to reducing greenhouse gas methane emissions. However, much more seaweed must be grown in order to be able to use it for these purposes. Start-up SpaceSea wants to help seaweed farmers expand their farms.

Students from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) are designing a platform where seaweed farmers are able to gain insights from satellite data from the European Space Agency. There are a number of satellites floating around the earth that collect data on, for example, water temperature and the chemical composition of various places in the oceans. “We can provide a variety of services based on this data. Such as remote monitoring of farms, prediction of ocean conditions, early warnings for farmers, recommendations for optimal operation times and locations for future farms.”

“We’re working with seaweed farmers and biologists to identify the ideal water conditions for various seaweed species to grow. We are able to establish what the conditions are at different areas in the ocean. This is how we can recommend ideal matches to farmers by using these models and the satellite data,” explains Santiago Princ, technical manager at SpaceSea.

This makes it clear to seaweed farmers as to where they can best grow certain types of seaweed. “Nowadays, seaweed farmers often have small farms in places that made sense to them personally or were convenient to them,” he says. “In the future, for example, if they want to expand their farm, they will need a tool to help them see where a particular seaweed grows best.”

Saving time and money

Seaweed farmers are able to save a lot of time and money with this tool. At the moment, farmers have to physically go on the water with a boat to determine the condition of the water and to see if the seaweed is still growing properly. “Apart from the fact that it takes a lot of time, it also costs a lot of money,” says Princ. “Farmers often have to hire a boat and divers. These must be insured properly as well. And there are plenty of other costs that farmers face.” According to Princ, the total amount that farmers have to pay in order to monitor seaweed growth can amount to around 2000 euros per trip. “We are able to offer our monitoring tool for about ten percent of the current price.”

With the tool, the farmers can not only measure the water conditions at any given moment, but they can also see how it will develop over time. “We are also able to make predictions based on the data from past years with the help of machine-learning,” says Princ. “For example, we can suggest that a farmer should leave a seaweed crop for another week that was supposed to be harvested after three weeks. Or harvest it earlier if the upcoming conditions could prove harmful. For instance, if the temperature of the water were to get higher.”

He hopes that the data will enable SpaceSea to warn farmers if something goes wrong with the crops, e.g., when warm water currents turn up. “This way a harvest is less likely to be affected or lost and subsequently farmers face less risk.”

Een preview van de tool

Producing sustainable food

All that seaweed can be used for all kinds of purposes. “According to official estimates, there will be over 9 billion people in the world by 2050,” says Princ. “These people will need food and energy, but food and energy production are not very sustainable at the moment. He believes that seaweed can change this. “First of all, it is tasty and very nutritious. It has more iron than other vegetables. We can start eating more seaweed. But it can serve as fertilizer for crops and food for cattle such as cows as well”. “This will make meat production more sustainable,” says the co-founder.

Cows emit a relatively large amount of methane via belching and flatulence. This greenhouse gas is not good for the environment – it is roughly 25 times worse than CO2. “By incorporating seaweed into bovine feed, around 30% less methane is released through their belching and flatulence. Producing enough seaweed is paramount in order to be able to use it on a large scale.

Seaweed also has remarkable applications in the energy sector. “It can also be used in the production of biofuels. Its chemical composition makes it exceedingly well suited to this purpose. In fact, seaweed has been categorized as the third generation biomass source for the production of renewable energy, a bit like bioethanol – which is currently the most efficient generation,” he says.

Global expansion

Seaweed production must first expand considerably in order to take full advantage of these applications. “We are further developing the technology at SpaceSea so as to make this happen. We currently have a prototype, and are laying down the basis for running a pilot.” says Princ. The product will be able to enter the market after that.

SpaceSea started out at TU/e Innovation Space with the help of various organizations such as the Netherlands Space Office and the European Space Agency. The start-up is focusing on the European market first. Nevertheless, the European seaweed market is still in its infancy. Comparatively, 97% of the world’s seaweed production is presently being done in Asia.

“We want to raise awareness of the potential of seaweed and establish ourselves in the local market. Once we have laid down a solid foundation, we want to expand into the American and Asian markets as there are great opportunities for growth there.”

‘Faster transition using a scale model for sustainable energy’

An interactive model that shows the consequences of sustainable energy on the TU/e campus. Team RED wants to use their tool to support policymakers in decisions on the construction of, for example, solar panels or a wind turbine. The student team at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) wants to speed up the energy transition process.

There are various forms of sustainable energy available, such as solar panels, heat pumps, wind farms or heat networks. Not all forms are equally suitable for use in a specific building. “With our interactive model, we can quickly show what the energy consumption is in a specific building. This also allows us to show what the consequences are when, for example, solar panels or a heat pump are connected,” explains Sjoerd Pernot, co-founder of Team RED. “For instance, think about the amount of money that can be saved in this way.” The first scale model used by the team is based on the TU/e campus. “The scale model also shows users what the consequences of this sustainable solution are for the rest of the campus.

The scale model consists of a touchscreen monitor with physical buildings on it. By using the touchscreen to click on a building, users are able to request more information about a building. In addition, they are able to add sustainable solutions to buildings with the help of small tokens. Such a token represents a solar panel, for instance. The rest of the scale model instantly shows the consequences for the building and the entire campus. This allows users to immediately see whether the nearest power cables are powerful enough to be able to install solar panels. There are several aspects that need to be taken into account. “The scale model lets users try out different scenarios in a very accessible way, and ultimately choose the best option,” says Pernot.

Complete overview provides added value

That’s why the scale model provides added value according to Pernot. “Graphs are often used to show the results of different technologies on a particular building, but these are difficult to interpret. By using our model, users can see immediately what the consequences are.” The scale model is able to demonstrate this not only for solar panels, but also for other sustainable energy sources such as wind turbines.

The student team wants to use the scale model to encourage discussion on sustainable energy. “The results of sustainable solutions are presented in a relatively straightforward way. In this way, people with fewer technical skills are also able to join in the discussion,” says Pernot. “Someone who doesn’t know much about electrical engineering, for example, may not realize that the previously mentioned electricity cables that are in the vicinity, must have a particular amount of capacity in order to be able to install solar panels. That’s what our scale model shows right away.”

© Team RED

Dutch Design Week

During the Dutch Design Week (DDW) the students presented the first prototype of the model of the TU/e campus. “We were able to buy a first touchscreen and finished the demonstration version of the software”, says Ruben Lathuy, team capain of Team RED. The reactions were generally positive. “We also received very valuable feedback from a number of visitors. As a result of meetings during the DDW, we even had contact with various interested visitors to see if we could do something for them in a future project.”

In order to further develop this first prototype, feedback from the Housing Department at Eindhoven University is very important to the team. “That way, we can make the scale model even better in our next assignments.” The students receive supervision from TU/e innovation Space. “We have a weekly meeting with our regular supervisor. In addition, we can always turn to other student teams and start-ups to ask questions,” Pernot says. “We all run up against the same things, so it’s nice to be able to help each other.”

From campus to community

Team RED currently focuses primarily on campuses of universities or companies, yet also wants to look at the application of the scale model in the future in e.g. residential areas. “The social interaction within a neighbourhood is very different from that on a campus. Our model would be a great way to get residents and the municipality to talk to each other about sustainable energy.” The team is in dialogue with a party that wants to look at the application in a neighbourhood. However, various new aspects, such as privacy, will be discussed. A market research will show whether a translation of the tool into the application for neighbourhoods is a wise decision.

The team is already talking to the administrators from two other campuses about creating another scale model. The students also want to use the market research to look for new potential customers. Only when the first model is completely finished, do they start looking at the possible commercialisation of the product. “We want to continue to improve this tool and ensure that more and more people benefit from it,” says Pernot. “At the moment, we consider it particularly important to contribute to the energy transition process by helping others in their decision-making around it.”

Specialized incinerators for recycling metals: ‘Solution to a rising shortage’

The manufacture of batteries, telephones, laptops and other electronics is continually on the rise. The mountain of electronic waste is also expanding. Thousands of kilos of recyclable metals are currently being dumped in landfills. The CORE student team at the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) has developed a relatively simple process aimed at bringing these metals back to their purest state. They can be recycled this way and the supply of metal will become unlimited.

The earth has its own process for recycling waste. For example, waste ends up in rivers via contaminated air and eroded rocks. These rivers bring it out to the ocean where it slowly sinks down to the bottom of the sea. There it gradually disappears between the cracks in the tectonic plates under the seabed into the earth’s core. There it is so hot that the materials disintegrate back into pure elements. The core pushes those elements, such as metals, back to the earth’s crust where people are able to mine these. This process takes 35 million years. And that is far too lengthy a process for meeting the current demands of industry. In 35 years’ time, for instance, lithium and cobalt will be depleted. “That’s why we’ve developed an incinerator where this process can be carried out in about one week,” says Dirk van Meer, captain of Team CORE.

Children with lead poisoning

Recycling metals in this way is not restricted to the production of electronics. It also solves a social problem. “Old phones and computers are currently mainly being sent to Africa and China. There, small children are forced to take out any useful parts in order to be able to sell them,” says Van Meer. “The combustion process which is used to destroy the electronics causes the rivers to become acidic. The children often suffer from lethal levels of lead poisoning.”

These scenes are a thing of the past thanks to the recycling factories set up by the Eindhoven student team. They want to set each province up with its own factory equipped with this kind of recycling incinerator. “Then the waste won’t have to be transported very far. That makes a big difference in terms of environmental pollution and costs.” Construction work on the first factory will start at the end of 2020 in Duiven. This site will mainly process waste generated by the recycling of automobiles. At the moment, the team is actively involved in preparation, e.g. with arranging environmental permits. “We always provide multidisciplinary teams wherein enthusiastic students as well as experienced professionals from the industry get to work together.”

Following the factory in Duiven, the student team aim to build a factory on the Metalot site in Budel, also in the Netherlands. “We are planning to process tougher waste streams there, such as batteries,” he says.

From waste to pure elements

Energy-rich waste, such as sludge, and low-energy waste, such as metal, are mixed together in the electric incinerators. ” This means that we only have to switch on the incinerator once and then it will remain warm because of the energy from the waste,” explains the chemical technology student. “In addition, it allows us to process a variety of waste materials that are normally useless to industry.” Team CORE has a partnership with Auto Recycling Nederland (ARN). ” A fraction of a car remains after recycling. We are able to process this in our machine.” Products such as scrap vehicles, telephones and laptops are first crushed into particles of about one centimeter,  then they go into the incinerator.

The incinerator then separates these waste products into pure elements. This creates three layers: metal, sludge and mineral layers. “In principle, it’s all about the metal. New products can be made from these elements.” The team has also sought new applications for the sludge and the mineral layers. “Various residues such as rubber are incorporated into the sludge. This is similar to tar,” says Van Meer. That’s why sludge is frequently used in the construction industry. “The sludge from various metal mills is already being used in construction. There is more than enough demand for us to bring our sludge there too.”

Stones absorb CO2

The mineral layer is mainly made up of obsidian. This is a rock that is formed during a volcanic eruption when lava cools down too quickly. “This substance is capable of absorbing CO2 into its structure. We are therefore able to potentially use it in the top layer of roads. It absorbs part of the CO2 emissions from cars, for example. Moreover, the rock remains 1.5 degrees warmer than present-day asphalt. That will greatly reduce the amount of road salt used during winter.”

Circular economy

Subsequently, this is how the CORE team contributes in various ways to a circular economy. This is also a major dream for team captain van Meer. According to him, a circular production will only be achievable if companies decide to work together. “We want to deal with waste products that other companies don’t do anything with or don’t benefit from. By working together with us, the status of companies that normally do nothing with these waste products will also improve. They will be able to say that they are working in a more sustainable way,” he says. “I don’t see the point of competition in this area. There is still so much to do which nobody else is doing.”

All the factories with the recycling incinerators that the CORE team wants to set up will also be operated by separate companies that are collaborating with one another. For instance, IVER BV will run the factory in the north. “Private investors, such as the Noordelijke Ontwikkelings Maatschappij (NOM, Northern Development Company) and Rabobank will finance the factory over there. Ultimately, a private investor’s company will manage the factory.” A number of students from the student team will get to work in that company. The rest will continue to focus on research. The student team itself is a foundation wherein students will remain involved in the development of the technology.

Challenges for students

Van Meer: ” This is how everyone will be able to further develop their own ambitions and achieve their own goals.” At present, the team is made up of 28 students from a variety of study programs across various academic years. The personal growth of each team member is very important to him. “I want everyone to work on a task that appeals to them. People should enjoy what they do and learn from it at the same time. This is the most important starting point for a student team.” The team is part of TU/e’s  innovation Space. A place at the university where students receive supervision during the setting up and running of a student team or a start-up. “There are many experienced people walking around who can support us in all sorts of ways. Aside from that, we also support other teams with the knowledge that we have gained. For instance, when it comes to grant applications.”

There is also room for relaxation alongside the hard work. The chairperson sees his team as a group of friends. ” One minute we’re out grabbing a beer together and then the next, we’re busy solving social problems.”

Tomorrow is Good: why German automobile club study is the anti-electric lobby at its finest

I make models for electric vehicles and the transition to renewable energy at the Eindhoven University of Technology and that means I follow electric vehicle developments closely. Recently, I took the ADAC (largest German automobile club with 18 million members) to task for using their new “expert tool” to paint an unrealistically negative picture of the electric vehicle (EV). (See here on Twitter and here for another blogpost on Innovation origins.)

ADAC defended itself by saying these were only the preliminary conclusions and the study that was still in the making would explain everything. Last week, the study was released and the bad news is: they didn’t react to the criticism in any substantial way and they didn’t change a thing. The good news is, we no longer have to second-guess the mistakes they have made because the firm that made the expert tool (Joanneum Research Life or JRL for short) spelled almost everything out in a background document.

In this blogpost I’ll point out what exactly they did wrong by using my tried and tested format of:

The Top-6 errors people make, when they trash talk electric vehicles

  • The new ADAC / JDL study helpfully lends itself to demonstrating this because they make 5 of the 6 errors.
  • Correcting these errors and showing the result in a graphical format looks like this:

As you can see, taking the original ADAC figures into account, choosing diesel over electric makes hardly any difference as far as CO2 emissions are concerned. If we correct some errors (I think that’s more accurate than saying ‘change some assumptions’), the electric vehicle emits less than 100 grams of CO2 per km on the German mix during its lifetime, while the diesel emits over 200 grams per km. Everything is explained in detail in the (English) report below, but let’s start with the management summary:

  • Error 1 is to exaggerate greenhouse gasses emitted during battery production. JDL estimates emissions based on one outdated source while acknowledging production in very large factories uses ten times less energy than they assume. This metric is expressed in kg carbon dioxide equivalent emitted per kWh of battery. JBL assumes 163 kg per kWh. I show why more current sources has led me to propose 65 kg per kWh.
  • Error 2 is to underestimate battery lifetime. JDL estimates that the battery needs to be replaced after 150 thousand kilometers. But stats from actual Tesla drivers show that the battery will last 500 to 800 thousand kilometers and new research shows that the lifetime of lithium batteries is still rapidly improving. Research also shows cars in Germany are in use for about 225 thousand kilometers. Let’s ignore for now that many cars get another lease on life in countries like Poland. Or that recycling and second life expectations for batteries as stated in their study are far beyond conservative.
  • Error 3 is to pretend the electricity will not get cleaner during the lifetime of the electric vehicle. ADAC assumes that the electric vehicle will drive on the same mix forever. This is simply a false assumption as is explained in the report below. They also use a very high figure. This means that the ADAC assumption of 608 grams of CO2 per kWh of electricity should be replaced by 295 grams of CO2 per kWh.
  • Error 4 is to use unrealistic tests for energy use. JRL assumes a diesel vehicle will use 4.7 liters per 100 km. Although this might be true in the brochure for some cars, using real world measurement takes you closer to 6.6 liters per 100 km for the average German diesel and 5.8 liters for the Golf diesel.
  • Error 6 is lack of system thinking. With diesel you might reduce emissions around 40% in a renewable future, but with electric you can achieve reductions of around 95%.

So, the ADAC study is the anti-electric vehicle lobby at its finest, using every trick in the book to make the combustion vehicle look good and the electric vehicle look bad.

Are you still reading? Interested in proof and details? Now I’ll dive into the sources and reasoning behind each correction in detail.

Update Auke Hoekstra on November 18, 2019: I reduced diesel emissions while driving from 235 gr/km to 212 gr for an average diesel and 187 gr for a Golf. A stupid error: I forgot to exclude heavy diesels in and the attentive reader @kasparthommen alerted me.  Which goes to show it’s important to make transparent calculations so others can correct you. Thanks Kaspar!

1. Exaggerate greenhouse gasses emitted during battery production

An electric vehicle has a battery, something combustion cars don’t have. To produce it you have to use energy, and this emits CO2. Every serious EV researcher agrees on that. The interesting bit is determining how much. The measurement used is mostly greenhouse gasses emitted per kWh of battery.
The problem in determining this is that manufacturers don’t want to tell this because they don’t want to tip off the competition while the scientific literature is usually far behind the facts. The ADAC (or rather Joanneum Research Life or JRL for short that provided them with the tool) said they used 11 literature sources. That seems to be mostly for show as most sources are not referenced in the text. (That’s a big no no in science by the way: it’s like padding your resume with jobs you did not do.)

But I tried to trace back the three sources that are referenced in the main text.

The first is Ellingsen et al 2014 who base themselves on Majeau-Bettez et al (2011) who in turn base themselves on Rhydh and Sanden (2005). So this line takes us back to a theoretical exercise from 2005 that was not even aimed at car batteries. I think it shows the approach of JRL takes them a couple of years behind the times.

The second is a what JRL calls a “meta study” from the ICCT (2018). I wonder if they did more than skim the summary for a number to use. Because firstly it is not a meta-study but a policy brief. Secondly, they claim this study points to emissions of 175 kg CO2-eq per kWh while in reality this study says the ICCT doesn’t know because estimates are all over the place and emissions are dropping rapidly as manufacturing scales up and electricity becomes greener. Thirdly, the only time the ICCT uses 175 kg CO2-eq per kWh, it calls this “the central estimate of Romare et al.” which is actually the third and last source Johanneum mention in the main text. So they present a brief as a study, say it concludes 175 kg when it doesn’t and claim this is an independent number when it isn’t. You can’t get it much more wrong than that.

The third and last source is Romare (2017). This is indeed a meta-study. Yet to choose this as a basis for the most important number in the whole tool is peculiar because this study has gotten a lot of push-back and the authors themselves warn against using it for large scale production. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and owner of the world’s largest lithium battery factory said “Calling this clueless would be generous. Much less energy required for lithium-ion batteries.”

Another EV CEO explains a lot is wrong with the study, one thing being outdated numbers. An article in Handelsblatt explains how unreliable these numbers are. I found the briefing of FFE called “Carbon footprint of electric vehicles – a plea for more objectivity” to be especially good. They explain (with support from the authors of the maligned study itself!) that this was just an overview of past studies and using this number as-is ignores the rapid pace of development that is bringing emissions down quickly as production scales up and electricity becomes greener.
So there you have it: everybody agrees the 175 kg CO2-eq is untrustworthy and outdated and that battery production emissions are dropping rapidly. You know what: even JRL seems to agree! But then they decide to ignore it. How do we know? In my criticism I introduced some new sources that JRL have now discussed in a separate chapter called “significant influences”. What do we find in that chapter (on page 192)?

I was flabbergasted when I read that. It’s like saying: “We now know our estimate of energy use for battery production is probably ten times too high. But we are going to use it anyway. Get over it.”

Now just to be clear: this approach by JRL is not unusual. Many large organizations (JRL mentioned the IEA) us it. But that does not make it right. It only shows many large institutions have trouble dealing with change.

So how do I determine emissions? I do not base myself on scientific publications with production numbers that go back more than 4 years because that’s simply irrelevant. So I certainly don’t use meta-studies. I either use recent studies containing original research or industry sources. In the article that I linked to previously this leads me to conclude 65 kg CO2-eq per kWh is currently a good average and it will drop further in the future. This is bolstered by new (June 27, 2019) market research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (publicly referenced in this podcast) that puts the emissions between 20 and 80 with the average around 40 kg CO2-eq per kWh. However, this is excluding mining so I think 65 is still a good estimate.

By the way: all this is excluding recycling and second life. JRL does include some assumptions but they are very pessimistic: recycling reduces emissions only 2% and second life reduces them a lot but is only assumed in 5% of cases. In effect the result is negligible. There is so much wrong with these assumptions that I will let them be for the moment, but I will just say that in 15-20 years’ time (when current car batteries are scrapped) it is ludicrous to assume the emissions needed for that will be almost the same as for producing new batteries.

2. Underestimate battery lifetime

Many studies limit the battery lifetime to 150 thousand kilometers. When the car drives more, the batteries have to be replaced. ADAC and JRL do this. However, my good friend prof. Maarten Steinbuch publishes a well known blog that shows the data that Merijn Coumans gathers from hundreds of Tesla drivers to see how their batteries are degrading. The numbers suggest that after 800 thousand kilometers you will still have 80% of range left. There are many other public sources that point towards batteries outlasting any realistic use of the electric vehicle. Since the electric motor is also good for such a long distance we might well see electric vehicles being used for more kilometers than currently with diesel vehicles.
I recently supervised a master study that did a deep dive into battery degradation for me and it turns out most research on batteries is from the last five years: research is booming and it’s paying off, especially with regard to lower degradation. It is now better understood how active cooling, smart charging and doping of the electrolyte can make the lithium battery last much longer so it will be easy to make batteries that last over one million kilometers within ten years. There’s literally hundreds of relevant papers but a good introduction is this lecture by leading professor Jeff Kahn.

Many people voice opinions about how long cars will last. Few have facts to back their opinions up. Gniewomir Fils was kind enough to look into this and concluded that 150 thousand kilometers was clearly not enough and 15 to 20 years was more realistic. In more affluent countries, cars are driven shorter but even so in Germany people drive for about 16 years and with 14 thousand km per year that means 225 thousand kilometers. But life for a car bought in Germany often doesn’t end in Germany. Many cars are exported to countries like Poland where cars are much older on average and where electric vehicles can continue to reduce CO2 emissions.

3. Assume electricity will not get cleaner during the lifetime of the electric vehicle

Imagine somebody gave you a loan for a house over a 15-year period. Imagine further that the costs started at 402 euro per month in the first year and 9 euro per month less every following year. See the table below. What would you say is the cost per month over this 15-year period?
Almost anybody would say: you take the average over 15 years. I calculated that at 321 euro. That is your average cost when you live in your house for 15 years. Right? Well not according to JRL and the ADAC.

These numbers are not random. They are the expected CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity in the EU. And what most studies of electric vehicles do wrong is that they calculate with the number in the first year. They pretend the coal fired power plants that are closed and the green energy that is added does not matter for the emissions of the electric vehicle. They pretend a vehicle bought in Germany in 2020 will drive on the energy mix of 520 grams of CO2 per kWh forever. But the average is 295. That’s 43% less!

I must say I could not find this piece of information in the background document but the graph in the press release gives us a clue. Eyeballing the graphic from the study/press release we can see that driving the electric vehicle on the German mix for 225 thousand km increases emissions from 12 to 37 tonnes. So, 25 tonnes for 225 thousand km gives 100 grams per km. The tool assumes the electric vehicle uses 0.19 kWh per km. That means they assume that producing 1 kWh of electricity produces 100/0.19=526 grams of CO2. So that is indeed the current German mix. Ergo they assume this dramatic situation will last for another 15 years.

Now maybe you will say: “They are just talking about how green electric vehicles are now and they acknowledge that electric vehicles will be greener in the future.” But that’s not how this works. All the emissions per kilometer numbers that ADAC and JRL are using are based on an evaluation of the car over its entire lifetime. So, they really take the high emissions in the first year and use that number every following year.

4. Use unrealistic tests for energy use

JRL and ADAC assume a diesel vehicle uses 0.52 kWh/km or 4.7 liter per 100 km based on “research by JRL” (page 62). However, if we look at users documenting their real energy use in Germany on and select diesel cars sold in the last 3 years the average is 6.6 liter per km. That’s 40% more. If we only compare a to a frugal Golf Diesel the realistic emission is still 5.8 liter per 100 km.

What often happens in Europe where politicians and automakers have long enjoyed a cozy relationship is that real numbers are replaced by very unrealistic tests so politicians and carmakers can say they reduced emissions while in effect they only cheated on the test. Under the NEDC, real emissions where 40% higher than in the test. The new WLTP is also problematic.

For electric vehicles, 0.19 kWh is assumed (page 64). This is about what the EPA (the best source for vehicle emissions including charging) estimates for a car like the Tesla Model 3, Volkswagen eGolf and Nissan Leaf so let’s go with that.

5. Exclude fuel production emissions

If we take diesel, JRL assumes that it will emit around 33 tonnes of CO2 over 225 thousand kilometers. That is 147 gram per kilometer. Taking into account their diesel consumption of 4.7 liters, that implies emissions of around 3120 grams per liter of diesel.

Here they have not made a material mistake. The direct emissions from diesel are around 2600 grams per liter (it differs a bit according to exact composition). Indirect emissions for things like refineries and transport adds around 620 grams in Europe (see e.g. here and here). That brings the emissions per liter to around 3220 grams which is pretty close to 3120 grams – so no complaints here.

You could argue about the exact height of the numbers. However, refining and transport alone added at least 18% in 2010 and this percentage has probably increased since oil takes more and more money in order to extract it.

Also, they could have included biofuels to get at the slightly reduced number. That’s a discussion for another time but modern scientific insights are that using agro-based biofuels causes more emissions than fossil fuels in most situations (waste and some double cropping and fallow grasslands excluded) and put enormous pressure on worldwide food systems and the natural environment. That is why I advise against it for regular cars and why I certainly don’t use it to reduce the carbon footprint of fossil fuels.

 6. Lack of system thinking

By this I mean that most critics that claim electric vehicles are not much better than combustion cars seem to miss the “the big picture”. Let me take the table from my article to illustrate:



As you can see, in a Renewable Future scenario, the diesel car could achieve some improvements to total emissions but it’s very limited. The electric vehicle, on the other hand, can achieve a further tenfold reduction over the current twofold reduction compared to diesel vehicles. This last scenario is speculative, but these numbers are estimates that would result when recycling is done using current best practices and when production and operation only use low carbon sources.

Best read: Navigate a busy city? Make self-driving cars more aggressive’

Trams, cats, colliding cyclists – they can make it pretty difficult for self-driving cars. Especially in a city like Amsterdam. Carlo van de Weijer, director of the recently opened Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI), thinks that it will never work. Let autonomous vehicles drive through our busy main city? “That can’t be done,” according to Van de Weijer. That’s what came out of our best read article this week.

Still, that all sounds rather set in stone. Ten years ago, nobody would have predicted that we could transform leftovers into decorative edible tidbits with a 3D printer. Is a self-driving car in a city like Amsterdam really so inconceivable?

Just this past summer, a TU Delft research team presented a milestone for self-driving cars in cities. The researchers designed a system that analyses and predicts pedestrian behaviour. “It is a system that covers the entire processing chain, from vehicle perception, situation analysis and planning to control,” said lead researcher Dariu Gavrilla at the time.

At least another 30 years

In other words: a self-steering car that is able to predict whether a pedestrian will stay waiting patiently at a curb, or choose to cross the street. “We are one small step closer to being able to roll out autonomous driving effectively in a busy, urban setting,”,said Gavrilla. Would that mean self-driving cars will be lining the Amsterdam canals? Things won’t go that fast, Gavrilla also believes: “A car that can drive through a city and be as adaptable as a human driver – that’s going to take at least another thirty years,” he told the Dutch broadcast service NOS in August.

So, things will still be a long time coming, although it certainly doesn’t seem inconceivable. That’s how trend-watcher and Tesla driver Vincent Everts views it too. “I already use the autopilot function on 95 % of my trips,” he says. “Especially on the highway, but also in the city if the road is suitable enough.” The only condition is that the roads have to be clear. “I hardly ever use it on inner city streets, but there are no lanes there and things jut out all over the place,” Everts says. “The car is not at all ready for that yet.” But will it be possible someday?

Read moreBest read: Navigate a busy city? Make self-driving cars more aggressive’

Tomorrow is good: Sustainability – who else is all mouth and no trousers?

A year ago, many people in the Netherlands had never even heard of it. But right now, the nitrogen crisis is dominating the political and social agenda in the Netherlands. It is the topic of the day. As many as 18,000 projects have been put on hold because we already emit far too much nitrogen in the Netherlands, as in nitrogen oxide and ammonia to be specific. The Netherlands is even the European frontrunner as far as nitrogen emissions are concerned. We have plenty of it. In fact, way too much.

Nitrogen poses a problem for nature

Over the past few weeks, I have regularly heard people say that nitrogen isn’t an issue. Even those who have some gravitas have been saying that. They say that nitrogen would actually benefit nature. Some plants, such as grass, nettles and blackberries, are growing very fast indeed. They’re overrunning many other plants as a consequence. And that’s the core of the issue. At first glance, it’s all still very green, yet at the same time many plants and animals are disappearing.

The problem is that so many different plants are dying from too much nitrogen. Two concrete examples make this particularly clear. Take heather, for instance. Heather dies off because it becomes ‘lazy’ when exposed to too much nitrogen. The heather’s root system gradually shrinks in size if too much nitrogen is present. The plants can’t absorb enough moisture during dry periods and end up perishing. Or take oaks. Every tree has all kinds of fungi around its roots. Oak fungi cannot cope with nitrogen. Excess nitrogen in the soil triggers acidification. This in turn causes the fungi around the oak to die off. However, oak trees need these fungi in order to be able to absorb nutrients from the soil. Since the oak’s roots also die off together with the fungi, the tree also ends up dying.

When oak and heather plants die, different animals and plant species that live around them and which have benefited from these disappearing trees or plants also tend to disappear. I heard a forest ranger say last week: “Nature is dying. It has been getting quieter and quieter here in the countryside for years now. A statement that really makes you pause for a moment and reflect ……………….

Over the centuries, increasingly more plant and animal species have become extinct. This is the epitome of evolution. That in itself is not a problem. The problem lies in the tremendous speed and scale which this is now happening at. Plenty of reasons to be worried.

Identifying the ones who are to blame

Meanwhile, our national hobby has started up again. We are searching for the ones who are to blame. The politicians, the government, the farmers, the aviation sector, the car industry, the banks and the supermarkets. Seeking answers as to who is to blame has not done us much good so far. Least of all provided a solution. Groups are at odds with each other. Everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else. Everyone is digging their heels in.

Seeking a solution

We are so busy hunting down the ones to blame, that attempts to find a solution seems to be slipping further and further out of sight. By the way, I am deliberately not talking about the solution. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that has emerged over the last 60 years.

In any event, the solution is not fewer and fewer nitrogen regulations. The path to a solution actually starts with much less nitrogen all-round. The Remkes Committee carried out research and drew the simple but clear conclusion that “not everything can be done.” That sounds very logical and quite reasonable, doesn’t it?

Be part of a solution yourself?

It is now abundantly clear that a lot needs to be done. In all the discussions, I notice that you and I, as citizens and consumers, have for the moment gotten off relatively scot-free. It seems that it will mainly be up to others to come up with the solution. Although we do have a lot of influence collectively as consumers and citizens. If we start to behave differently, then a lot (of change) is possible. It has just dawned on me in recent weeks that the Remkes Committee’s conclusion that ‘not everything can be done’ is also applicable to me personally. A bit late, I admit. Nonetheless, “not everything can be done” applies, of course, to all of us.

That’s why I no longer want to be all mouth and no trousers

To date, I buy my groceries at the supermarket once a week. I am easy-going and a bit lazy when it comes to grocery shopping. When I have a full schedule, I don’t spend time carefully considering what food I buy. Of course, I know that farmers are usually not getting a fair price for their produce in our supermarkets. There is definitely money to be made right throughout the food chain. Nevertheless, at the same time, many sustainable farmers are struggling to make ends meet. It is a race to the bottom. More and more large-scale production, more bulk goods; the cheaper, the better. The negative effects that this race has on soil (such as too much nitrogen) are also caused by my own consumer behaviour. High time for a change.

Where does your food come from?

I frequently buy organic food. At least I do that. But where does it all come from? Has it been transported all over the world? I have to admit that I don’t usually look at any of the labels. It’s small print and kind of difficult to understand. So where does my food come from? I often don’t know. Do you?

So I have resolved to apply “not everything can be done” to myself as well. And what does that mean in concrete terms? From now on, I have started to buy as much food as possible which is sustainable and locally produced. So I no longer have to load everything all at once into a supermarket trolley without taking a a closer look. I would like farmers to be paid a fair price for their sustainably produced food. That means looking for new places to shop. And I have to say – that’s not easy. It’s still quite difficult to find out precisely what the situation is. But if you invest a bit of time, you’ll come a long way. The same rule applies here as well. You won’t actually notice it until you’ve thought about it and figured it out.

So part of the solution will certainly not be found in fewer conscious consumers, but rather in many, many more. I’m up for it. Are you?

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

DDW Talk: Humanoid robots need to alleviate human anxiety

human robots hand

During the ‘Digital Design’ DDW Talk, Sony presented its vision on the future relationship between humans and robots. “When robots have evolved so far that we feel like they’re alive, then humans will begin to feel an affinity toward them,” says Rikke Gertsen Constein. “We really need to learn to coexist.”

Affinity in Autonomy

Constein is Global Art Director at the Sony Creative Center, where she has developed the Affinity in Autonomy design project. In this project, Sony doesn’t look at robotics from a functional perspective, as is customary at present, but from a human viewpoint instead. “We want to experiment on an emotional level,” Constein explains. “The project offers a more abstract vision for AI and robotics. We will be living alongside each other in the near future, but we really need to learn to coexist.”


What led to this project was the anxiety that artificial intelligence elicits in some people, the designer states. “So we got to work on familiarizing ourselves with the unknown.” The result is an interactive exhibition made up of five installations. Each installation depicts a step closer to an affinity with robots. It starts with the awakening of the intelligence. Subsequently it learns to respond to people and their environment. This ultimately leads to an emotional connection, or in the words of Constein, a ‘symbiosis between humans and robots’. The exhibition was on display at the Milan Design Week last April.

The other side

The designer underlines the urgency of this issue. “Robots will be given an essential role in our society. I sincerely believe that robotics will help people with the most important things in our lives. We’ve tried to flesh that out.” As a way of imagining a genuine relationship between humans and robots, Constein and her team have also thought about the robot’s side of things. “In order to find any real affinity, we also need to think about how things look from the other side.”

Robots as superheroes

In conclusion, Constein notes that we in Europe are far more cautious with regard to these matters than in Asia. “We are often highly critical in Europe. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because we do need regulations for the application of this new technology. But in Japan, for example, it has already been warmly welcomed. People are delighted, as if someone is helping them to make their lives more efficient. Robots are seen as a kind of superhero. Our project has also looked for affinity and empathy, instead of just looking at the more terrifying aspects.”

Read all about Dutch Design Week here

Female Tech Heroes network is expanding, ‘we inspire women to work in technology’

Women are still very much underrepresented in the engineering sector. The figures vary, but in general, barely 20% of the people in this sector are women. Many of them mention having problems with the male culture at work. That’s why Hilde de Vocht and Ingelou Stol set up Female Tech Heroes six months ago. The aim is to inspire women to work in technology. They also want to give women who are already working in this sector the confidence to grow in their work. They organized an intimate dinner during the Dutch Design Week (DDW) to determine together with their members a course for the coming years.

Around 1600 women have already joined the network. A hundred of them took part in the dinner. Numerous connections were made. Women are open to conversation and are sincerely interested in each other. Participants changed places after each course so they could meet more people. The women met each other over a glass of wine and stellar cuisine. This resulted in wonderful conversations and entertaining situations. “There was a very special atmosphere. Everyone was very open,” Ingelou Stol said after the dinner. “People are joining up with a specific purpose. Everyone thinks it’s important to raise the number of women in technology.”

A major congress

The first Female Tech Heroes event was a congress that was held in May. “There was a great deal of enthusiasm for that,” says Stol. “Since then, I often get messages from people who want to engage with us. Because they want to do something for the network or because they have personal questions.”

Next year, Female Tech Heroes will be organizing another congress during the 2020 Dutch Technology Week. “This edition will last two days”, says Stol. “We have four half-days when we will have the opportunity to highlight a different theme each time.” This makes the event interesting for as broad a cross-section of women as possible. Equality is an important component, but entrepreneurship and leadership will also feature.

Expanding the network

Those behind the initiative are working hard to expand the network. “That’s why this dinner was very important,” she added. Together with Hilde de Vocht, she asked the members questions in order to determine a future for the network. The women made it clear that they were interested in themes such as e.g., leadership, education and entrepreneurship. They want to make an impact.

When asked how Female Tech Heroes could help with this, they replied: through conversations with mentors, passing on job vacancies and via networking events. The network also wants to work with role models – women who are capable of inspiring others. The majority of the attendees stated that they would be prepared to take on this role.

Should men be a part of it?

The presence of men in the network was also an important issue, of course. Three men were present at the dinner. This number needs to increase sharply as far as the women are concerned. During dinner it turned out that in their ideal scenario, the Female Tech Heroes network should have a male membership of about 30%. After all, they can see just as well that more women in technology is essential and consequently do their bit to make it happen. Stol: “If we want to change the culture, we have to keep up the conversation. That’s why it is also important that men join the network.”

Based on the members’ answers, De Vocht and Stol will draw up a strategic plan for the years ahead. “We want the network to keep on steadily growing over the coming period. We don’t need to double in size in just one year. It is important that the right people join up. That ensures a higher level of quality.”

Cooperation is crucial

Cooperation with other parties who have similar ideals is crucial to the network. “We are a network. We don’t have to do everything ourselves,” she says. “It’s our job to encourage people to work with each other.” For example, she sees that cooperation with the VHTO is in the offing. The expertise agency for girls and women in technology is already well on the way to finding role models for girls at school.

During dinner, the women shared their experiences about inequality at work. For example, some of them said that they weren’t taken seriously during meetings, or that some men make awful jokes on the job. “Women are often afraid to share these kinds of experiences because they think they are the only ones who are going through these,” explains Stol. “They feel supported by each other on such an evening.” At the end of the evening, a number of women even made spontaneous pitches, for example for a new job or for a partner in a start-up.