Start-up of the Day: Vialytics quickly registers road conditions

How do self-driving cars handle potholes on the road? As just stay driving ahead or spontaneously around them aren’t an option. You have to take the bull by the horns, that’s what the founders of vialytics were thinking. They designed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map out road conditions. This is how the road authorities can deal with the problems as quickly as possible. Danilo Jovicic, who founded the start-up together with Achim Hoth and Patrick Glaser, explains how the system works.

The founders of vialytics GmbH, (from left to right) Achim Hoth, Patrick Glaser, Danilo Jovicic ©vialytics

How did you come up with the idea of setting up vialytics?

We wanted to do business as an independent company and set up our own start-up. We got to know each other through the Activatr and Pioniergeist start-up programs. It was by coincidence that we then got together in a small group. That’s where the idea of doing something with road management took shape. We came up with a lot of wild ideas for a couple of weeks. We also had a lot of contact with municipalities who told us about problems concerning road management. The overarching issue there was autonomous traffic. We thought carefully about what you need to do in order to be able to drive safely autonomously. That invariably comes down to good roads.

What does your product look like?

Municipalities can continuously monitor their streets with our system. This is done with the help of a modified smartphone mounted on the windscreen of a municipal service vehicle. On a sweeper, for instance. These are at any rate always out and about in the city. The smartphone records the road every 4 meters.

This data is subsequently sent to us. It is then analyzed using an algorithm. Any damage to the road is automatically detected this way. The municipalities get the data back again in the form of a dynamic map. As they are better informed about the condition of the roads, they can react more quickly to any damage. This leads to a more sustainable and efficient way of road management. After all, plenty of municipalities don’t address the maintenance of their streets until it is far too late. Which means that the costs are also much higher. Current systems do not offer a proper solution. Those recordings are actually made with too great a time frame between each other. Nor are they carried out systematically.

Was there a problem you had to resolve first?

It was particularly difficult in the beginning to gain the trust of municipalities. This was mainly due to the fact that municipalities rarely cooperate with start-ups here. We set up 5 pilot projects where our system was tested. Thanks to the positive reactions we received, we have now managed to build up a customer base of 50 municipalities throughout Germany. Currently, we are also in contact with cities in other countries who are interested in our product.

What are you especially proud of?

We are especially proud of our first customers who have dispelled any preconceptions that local councils are a bit stuffy. Some of them were so enthusiastic about our solution that they bought the system before it had even been fully developed. Of course, we are also very proud of our team, which has expanded considerably over the last 6 months. Our employees are busy developing the product on a daily basis.

©vialytics

What does the future of vialytics look like?

Our goal is that of internationalization. We want road authorities all over the world to be able to maintain their road networks in an efficient and sustainable manner. Apart from that, we will continue to work on improving things so that we can keep on responding to the requests of our customers.

What tips do you have for other starters?

Do you have a good idea? Jump into the deep end and dare to make your dreams come true. And for those who have already set up a company: at some stage, take each employee along with you to a client. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.

More articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

Start-up of the Day: Vienna Textile Lab dyes fabrics with bacteria

Bakterien, Textilfarben, Vienna Textile Lab

“Bacteria are the most intelligent, environmentally friendly and resource-efficient way to produce textile dyes,” says Karin Fleck, founder of Vienna Textile Lab. “Bacteria occur in nature, can be stored as a strain in laboratories and propagated at any time. They synthesize colors in a natural way”.

Karin studied technical chemistry at TU Wien in Austria. For many years she had various managerial positions at several energy companies such as Vattenfall Energy Trading in The Netherlands and in Germany. When she met Cecilia Raspanti (who had founded the company Textile Lab Amsterdam), she became inspired to use bacteria to make textile dyes. Cecilia had already tried this herself, but without much success. “It is not so much about the challenge of using bacteria as a raw material. More than anything, you actually need a lot of know-how and understanding of scientific methods. You then also have to go about it very carefully. There could potentially be germs among them,” Karin explains.

She had already been working with dyes when she was graduating. But the whole sector was new to her in principle. That’s why she sought support via:

  • Fritsch, a textile dye company in Vienna, which specializes in environmentally friendly dyes;
  • Erich Schopf, a bacteriographer from Vienna, who makes paintings using bacteria;
  • the Institute of Applied Synthesis Chemistry at TU Wien.

Microorganisms tend to produce microbial dyes in response to altered growth conditions. They protect cells from external influences such as salt or temperature stress, light or intense competition. These substances often also have an anti-bacterial effect. Bacteria-based textile dyes have the same properties as conventional synthetic dyes when used on a daily basis.

Karin Fleck elaborates further:

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab
Karin Fleck, Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

What solution does this bacterial-based textile dye offer and why is that important?

It is an alternative to synthetic dyes, which to a large degree have a detrimental effect on health and the environment. But also particularly for people in the textile industry who are constantly in contact with these dyes. Furthermore, everyone wears clothes and is therefore exposed to the chemicals that they contain. These dyes are currently under critical examination throughout the world. The EU has guidelines on synthetic dyes too. Dyes are banned on a regular basis or their use is restricted. This creates more room for new, innovative dyes. But especially for new production systems which do not rely on crude oil.

What has been the biggest obstacle that had to be overcome?

Our limited ability to hire people. The Austrian labor market is geared towards permanent jobs and employee security. Yet the world of start-ups is unpredictable. Above all, people are needed on a project basis in order to be able to cope with any peaks. You need to be able to react flexibly to the circumstances when you’re a young company who has growth spurts.

What has been a high point so far? What are you particularly proud of?

There have been many wonderful moments. Such as winning prizes. When we first started out, we already won 3rd place at the Climate Launchpad. This year we won the BOKU Start-up Prize from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. All the invitations we’ve received have also been very encouraging. For example, for the TEDxCanggu in Bali or for a pitch at CLIX , part of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

It’s also great to see how people, customers and organizations from all over the world know how to find us. We talk to people from the US, Indonesia, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany and so on. For instance, I came in contact with Material Connexion in New York. This is a collection of some of the most diverse, innovative materials for industry, local tradespeople, artists and designers. Samples from Vienna Textile Lab have now also been included in their collection.

We derive the most pleasure from everyone who supports us. People who let us know that they appreciate how good our bacteria-based textile dyes are. The experts who really help us out when we can’t figure something out right at that moment. But also local organizations that believe in our success. These include the Vienna Impact Hub or the TCBL, Textile clothing and business labs.

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab,
Bacteria are applied directly onto the fabric, where they multiply and develop a pattern. Karin Fleck, Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

How is everything going at the Vienna branch?

Fine. We can have confidence in the structures and systems. We have had many rewarding and supportive experiences involving funding agencies and universities. There are people here who are promoting us, even when they don’t know us personally. I can’t judge whether things are any better anywhere else. But I know that there is more money available for the biotech sector in Germany and the US.

Where will the start-up be in five years’ time?

By then we will have elevated our manufacturing method to an industrial level. We will have a customer base that will facilitate further growth, and perhaps we’ll be expanding on a global scale.

What distinguishes Vienna Textile Lab from similar companies?

We have opted for solid partners. This in turn makes us stronger and more competent. Aside from that, we want to remain transparent and have discussions with all potential customers or partners. Not only with large corporations, but also with niche companies, artists and designers. That may well make it more complicated, but that makes it all the better as well. We learn a lot through this kind of interaction and are therefore able to position and develop our products much more effectively. Last but not least, we have an extremely wide variety of our most important employees: bacteria.

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab
Bacteria are capable of producing a large proportion of the colors in the color palette. Nevertheless, some colors are problematic and need to be mixed. Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

Read more articles about start-ups here.

 

 

Start-up of the week: a Dutch solution for a Dutch problem

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

EP Tender: a powerbank on wheels

It’s a strange sight, but the battery trailer from the French start-up EP Tender is definitely a very serious plan. You can regard the vehicle as a kind of extra battery for electric cars. This increases the range of the electric car by a maximum of 150 kilometers. Useful for holidays abroad where there are less charging stations than in The Netherlands. For the start-up it is to be hoped that battery nanotechnology is not set to overtake this wee trailer in the next decade.

Credimi – Fast financing for start-ups

Often an ambitious innovative business model needs money. Money that those involved don’t always have in their own pockets. Of course, you could go to a bank to finance your project, yet that frequently takes up an incredible amount of time. What makes Italian Credimi different from other lenders is that they are very fast. An applicant knows within 48 hours whether or not they will receive the loan. And this can be very welcome if you need to act quickly in a volatile market.

Skinive – Pocket-sized dermatologist

Almost everyone has discovered something on their skin that they were a little concerned about. A birthmark you didn’t know existed. Or a type of rash, an innocent spot. Or perhaps it would be a good idea to see your family doctor after all? By using the app from the Belarus start-up Skinive, you can find out directly by pointing your phone’s camera at your skin and taking a few pictures. The app then matches the images with data from a database that contains a multitude of nightmares for hypochondriacs.

The project initially began with the aim of discovering the first stages of skin cancer.However, the founders soon figured out that their smart app also worked for many other conditions. And because the app works on any smartphone, skin research is more accessible than ever. Skinive just offers advice on dermatological conditions, but unfortunately it doesn’t help against hypochondria.

Hydrogenious – All hail hydrogen

That hydrogen has the potential to be used as a fuel has been known for some time now. And how nice it would be if this would also be possible to roll it out en masse. Hydrogen is not a greenhouse gas. It produces about three times more energy than the same amount of petrol and there is more than enough of it on earth. So much for the advantages. Hydrogen is quite flammable at room temperature. Something that is obviously not very practical when you want to travel by car. In addition, the gas has the lowest density of the entire periodic table of elements, which makes it extremely difficult to work with. The gas evaporates just like that.

The German team behind Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies wants to address and overcome these two disadvantages with an innovative bit of chemistry. The ambitious start-up devised a process whereby hydrogen can be stored without any risk of explosion. And that’s not all. They have also discovered a way in which the gas can be transported to the end user with a tanker or a pipeline. How great would it be if we no longer needed to reduce the use of environmentally hazardous fuels, but simply had a clean alternative that we could burn which never runs out?

Fieldfactors – Avoid wet feet with green fields

Climate change is likely to have serious consequences for the Netherlands. Due to the fact that half of the country is actually below sea level, the risk of flooding is constantly looming over our tiny hinterland. And this is not the sole threat. Heavy rainfall will be more frequent as a result of a warmer kind of climate. Excess rainwater has to go somewhere if you don’t want the streets to be flooded. This is especially a problem in built-up areas. It can be very difficult to get rid of water when everything is packed in tight. However, the Dutch wouldn’t be Dutch if they didn’t have an innovative solution for this. One of these is Bluebloqs, a system from the start-up Fieldfactors, whereby 95% of rainwater can be stored underground in a basin.

This storage technology not only keeps our feet dry, it also looks pretty green. The system is visible at street level in the form of a plant bed. This naturally enhances the appeal of the street scenes. A win-win situation. An underground system is currently being installed in Rotterdam and is also dealing with a third sore point. Climate change does not limit itself to heavier rainfall, but also to longer periods of drought. Thanks to the compact storage basin, rainwater can be stored for months and reused at any time.

The biggest job these ex-students from Delft University have done so far was to install a storm water drain near the Kasteel football stadium, the home of Sparta. The football field is being watered in a sustainable manner through this basin. The square in front of the station has become a lot greener. And the local residents are no longer inconvenienced by flooding.

That the Dutch are internationally known as experts in the field of water management has once again been by Fieldfactors. The initiators show that innovation does not necessarily have to involve high-tech gadgets. One can also look towards nature too. In fact, everyone benefits from this system at a time when a well thought-out irrigation policy is more important than ever. This is enough reason for us to reward Fieldfactors this week with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Start-up of the Day: Hydrogen as the ‘crude oil’ of the future

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Hydrogenious is the product of a university research team that already had faith in hydrogen when it still wasn’t really relevant in Germany. They have managed to find a way to store and transport the hard-to-handle hydrogen in a practical way. After a successful financing round, they now want to establish their LOHC technology worldwide and “make hydrogen the ‘crude oil’ of the regenerative era”, says co-founder Daniel Teichmann.

In terms of mass, hydrogen has three times the energy content of gasoline. This is an impressive feature for an energy source. However, hydrogen also has the lowest density of all gases and is therefore difficult to handle. It evaporates easily, is flammable and must be stored under high pressure or at low temperatures.

Evaporation and flammability

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies took up the challenge and solved both evaporation and flammability issues. The start-up company developed a process whereby hydrogen can be stored and transported together with oil (dibenzyltoluene) without risk. The result? The existing infrastructure can be used. Not only the fuel tanks at service stations, but also the pipelines for transportation. This could pave the way for emission-free mobility and industry.

Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is a spin-off from the Friedrich Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Managing director and co-founder Daniel Teichmann has been working in the field of LOHC (liquid organic hydrogen carriers) since the start of his PhD in 2009. The company was founded in 2013 as a result of a critical technological breakthrough, which was also co-developed by professors Peter Wasserscheid, Wolfgang Arlt and Eberhard Schlücker.

Dewatering system

What was already working under laboratory conditions could be implemented on a technical scale for the first time in 2016. The first LOHC dewatering system was commissioned at the Fraunhofer ILO in Stuttgart. Electrolysis and hydrogenation take place at the main site in Erlagen. The process works as follows:

  • The hydrogen is produced with the aid of solar energy using PEM electrolysis,
  • Hydrogen is hydrogenated through the chemical bonding of hydrogen molecules to the liquid carrier via catalytic reactions,
  • During the dehydrogenation process, catalytic reactions are again used to release the hydrogen molecules from the liquid carrier medium,
  • The carrier material is not wasted and can be reused again and again.

Target groups are the chemical industry as well as service stations and the chemical industry. Hydrogenious sells two types of equipment. These are storage facilities for use in hydrogen-producing wind farms for hydrogenation, and the so-called Release Box at service stations and industrial installations for dehydrogenation.

 

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious
LOHC recycling system with storage installation and a Release Box (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

Innovation Origins spoke with Daniel Teichmann:

What is your motivation and what problem does the company resolve?

We believe in hydrogen as a renewable energy source. This motivated us to start the company in 2013. At that time, we could have developed the technology together with industrial partners, but we wanted to be in business.

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome? Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

Giving up never occurred to us and fortunately there was never a reason to give up. However, setting up and developing a business is a huge challenge. At the start, it’s usually a matter of finding funding. In Germany, there is not really an explicit culture when it comes to venture capital. Things are different in the Anglo-Saxon world and in China. Six years ago, hydrogen was not yet playing an important role in Europe. This has changed over the past year. As a university spin-off, we started out with a technology that works at the laboratory level. We first had to bring it up to an industrial level and make it commercially relevant.

Wasserstoff, Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies
Construction of the LOHC hydrogen infrastructure in the USA (c) Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies

What have been the highlights so far?

The successful funding round in July 2019, where we found four partners who not only act as capital providers, but also make a strategic contribution. This was an important milestone in the history of hydrogen-based LOHC technologies.

What are the advantages of your location?

Erlangen is an ideal location for us because of its proximity to the university, whom we also work closely with. In addition, the availability of specialists here is very good. We are also very lucky with our landlords, they’ve provided us with an excellent office and workshop space.

Where will your company be in five years’ time?

We want to progress from our current demonstration level to the realization of large industrial projects. We want to establish a successful global positioning of the LOHC technology. With our technology, hydrogen can then be easily and efficiently transported over long distances. For example, from Africa to Europe. That is how we can make an emission-free industry happen.

What distinguishes your innovation from similar products in the hydrogen energy sector?

Hydrogen has been produced and stored as an industrial gas for one hundred years. Our technology means that using hydrogen in a liquid form is feasible which thereby means it can make use of the existing infrastructure. In this way, we are turning hydrogen into the emission-free fuel of the future. Similar technologies exist in Japan, although they are not exactly the same. We are the technological leaders with our LOHC. As such, we hope to make an important contribution towards combating climate change.

Are you interested in start-ups? Read all articles from our series here.

Also interesting:

TU Eindhoven is bringing hydrogen as a source of energy for households one step closer.

Mobility of the future – battery or hydrogen?

Start-up of the day: Field Factors recycles rainwater in a compact modular system

De waterzuivering bij Sparta in Rotterdam

Field Factors enables purification and storage of rainwater with the use of their Bluebloqs circular system. It can be applied in an urban environment like that of the Sparta football club in Rotterdam. The system offers the advantage that it takes up very little space. The water can be recycled during dry periods several months later.

Commercial director Wilrik Kok (36) talks about the innovative character of Field Factors.

How did the idea for Field Factors come about?

We all have a background in spatial planning, including at TU Delft, e.g. landscape design, architecture and industrial design. We saw that rainwater was often just being drained off while there was a demand for water for irrigation and cooling later on. This awareness existed even before the very dry periods of recent summers. As an example, that you could take advantage of this opportunity when a sewage system gets replaced. Field Factors wants to manage water differently and in a natural way.

What kind of things does it do?

The application of Bluebloqs is key. It is a compact, green system that collects and purifies 95% of the rainwater through biofiltration in conjunction with underground storage technology. This allows parks to remain green and sports fields can be kept in optimal condition every season. The water is good enough for industrial use too.

For example, at the Sparta stadium in Rotterdam the rainwater drainage system has been disconnected and is being prepared for recycling which happens in four steps. Rainwater will be collected in the stadium and at the nearby square. Together these cover an area of six football pitches in total. This water will be collected in a reservoir underneath one of the Cruyff Courts (mini football fields made of artificial grass in public spaces, ed.) This polluted water is then decontaminated using plants and sand. The purified water is stored in an underground water reservoir. W hen it’s hot This water can be used by children who are playing to cool them down. As well as for watering the Sparta sports field. Flooding is prevented during heavy showers. The square is greener and the football club has a sustainable water supply.

Location, location, location

It is a comprehensive approach, from the beginning to the end and where maintenance is concerned. We base our work on the location and use it to make a quick scan. What is the ground underneath like, and is decoupling possible? We then make a draft sketch to offer an idea of what is feasible and what it will cost. If the interested party agrees, we work on it up until the specifications phase when a contractor can take over and get to work. After it is completed, we remain involved in monitoring and maintaining it.

Het team van Field Factors, plus een onderzoeker en twee afstudeerders
The Field Factors team, including a researcher and two graduates. With founders Wilrik Kok (left) and Karina Peña (right).

What makes your company stand out?

What’s special is that Field Factors is busy with the design of the water system at a very early stage, but also remains involved afterwards. That usually doesn’t happen. Construction of water drainage systems and their management are usually carried out separately from each other. Aside from that, the actual physical integration is unique to Bluebloqs.

How have the reactions been so far?

When we first started out, the problems surrounding dry weather were not yet apparent and it was really a matter of first seeing, then believing. In retrospect we did choose the right momentum as it is very topical nowadays. Up until now, we had primarily been working on unique locations and pilot projects which can also serve as an example for regular application of our system in the vicinity.

What has been the biggest obstacle?

Initially the local community – even people out and about on the streets -was reluctant and they found it difficult to accept the way it works and is built. Or even that a water purification system can actually be used in a public space. Usually these are hidden underground, but we have deliberately opted for visibility. And by that I specifically mean the location. That in the first instance, you pick a particular place where many people flock to, and use that for the Bluebloqs Biofilter.

What have been the highlights?

That was last year at Sparta in Rotterdam. Then you’ve built something and it’s exciting to see if it works properly. A lot of water is being processed at that location. So, if things go wrong you’re bound to get a lot of unwelcome attention. And in October we won €100,000 as finalists of the Green Challenge. This is an annual, international sustainability competition held by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

What can be expected in the coming year?

We are racing to build five systems. One of these is definitely going to succeed, but all lights are green for the other four projects as well. Besides that, we are expecting an answer from our patent application. And we are launching a new product, an extension of the Bluebloqs product line. A rain garden, so to speak.

Where will Field Factors be in five years’ time?

We will have grown and have a team of fifteen people. By that time we will have fifty systems operational in The Netherlands. We will also have shifted our operations to Spain. Our director Karina Peña is in fact a Spanish speaker. Spain is likely to suffer more and more from increasing drought as time goes by.

Read moreStart-up of the day: Field Factors recycles rainwater in a compact modular system

Start-up of the day: Carefree electric travel with EP Tender battery trailer

The EP Tender looks like a camper’s tiny pod caravan that’s towed behind an ordinary car – but it isn’t! It is actually a mobile battery that will someday make it possible to travel hundreds of kilometers with an electric car. At present, most EVs usually don’t go further than 150 kilometers, so says the founder of EP Tender, Jean-Baptiste Segard. The battery is then empty and needs to be recharged. Segard hopes that the masses will switch to buying an electric car as soon as EP Tender’s battery trailer comes onto the market.

What motivated you to set up EP Tender and what problem did it resolve?

“I first came up with the idea of a trailer with extra capacity for the electric car like our current EP Tender when I wanted to buy an electric car myself. That was back in 2012. I couldn’t find a suitable electric car at that time. The range was not great enough for the few times a year when I wanted to travel much further. I thought it was a pity that there wasn’t a modular system around that would supplement the electric car’s battery so that I could occasionally travel longer distances with it.

At first I thought of a trailer with an internal combustion engine which might run on petrol. But in 2018, we switched to a trailer with an auxiliary battery, because then we would be better able to meet the needs of the electric car manufacturers. We will have to halve our CO2 emissions by 2030. And that is something that car manufacturers must also work towards.

150 kms of extra range

The rationale behind the battery is that you only hire it when you need extra range. Generally speaking, I think this would only be about six times a year for me. You can lengthen the range of your electric car from about 150 kilometers to 250 to 300 kilometers. You could also place a larger battery permanently in your car so that you can keep on driving. But that is far too expensive for most people. This remains an obstacle for them as far as switching to electric-powered transport is concerned.

Installing a larger battery is generally not an efficient solution for increasing the car’s range either, as most people drive just a few times a year further than an average car battery can handle. Otherwise you would be driving around with that heavy battery for no reason. You can compare the weight with that of a cow or a donkey. You’ll have these on your back seat during every short trip. Why would you want to do that if you don’t need to?”

The EP Tender team: Frederic Joint, Jean-Baptiste Segard (second from left), Hugo Basset, Fabrice Viot, Dingjie Ma, Hancheng Yang

What is the main obstacle you will need to overcome?

“It is very difficult to be taken on board in the development plans of car manufacturers. The automotive industry has been around for 120 years. And the planning cycle is lengthy when it comes to developing a new car. That said, we are in talks with a number of car manufacturers. However, a contract with any of them is yet to materialize. It is important that this happens. After all, the car manufacturers must apply for approval from the statutory regulators for use of the EP Tender system with their electric cars. They will only do that once they have our technology fitted to their cars. We cannot do that for them. As long as they haven’t got that done, there won’t be a market for us.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“In 2018, when we switched to a battery in the EP Tender instead of a combustion engine. That way you can rely even more on sustainable energy.”

The EP Tender mobile battery Photo: EP Tender

What can we expect from EP Tender in the coming year?

“Our business model must be in place by then. We are now completing a survey using data from 350,000 consumers which should show what most people would be willing to pay when hiring the EP Tender. As well as how often, where and when they could use the EP Tender. We are now putting the finishing touches to the robotics of the trailer so that it can connect itself to the car. The idea is that every 50 kilometers along the road there will be a service station where there will always be twenty EP Tenders ready to be connected. We are currently discussing the location of these service stations with energy companies. But also with private motorway operators in various European countries who have a state concession for these. They have an interest in electric cars being able to add energy in time so that they don’t end up stuck on the roadside.”

Where would you like to be with EP Tender in five years’ time?

“Then we would like to be profitable. Or at least break even. The outlook is that 40% of cars will be electric by 2030. So the demand for the EP Tender should have increased by then. By 2025, we want our trailer to be available for hire in the major European countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. But also in Austria, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Denmark. And we want to have a foothold in the US, China and India.”

What does EP Tender’s innovation improve upon compared to products in your segment of the market?

“That drivers of electric cars can drive a long distance without having to constantly worry about their battery’s energy reserves.”

Start-up of the Week: Farewell to filthy seafarers?

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

CityStep – E-scooters set to soar in The Netherlands

The four students from Breda at CityStep have proven that holidays can sometimes also be a time to reflect and be inspired. Sometimes you don’t even have to come up with something completely new for a good business plan. Instead, you can simply shift an existing idea from one place to another. The Brabanders were so enthusiastic about their e-scooter tour during a city trip to Valencia that they immediately thought: ‘We have to got to bring this to The Netherlands too’. But that was easier said than done, as ever since the Stint tragedy in 2018, electric bikes in the Netherlands have suffered from a bad image.

The National Transport Authority (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer) has significantly tightened up the rules due to safety reasons, but this did not prevent CityStep from going ahead with their plans. During a networking get-together on a rooftop in Tilburg, they came into contact with a scooter manufacturer that meets these strict regulations. The first rental scooters in Tilburg are now available for hire. The transformation towards an e-scooter empire which encompasses the Netherlands should take place over the coming years.

Wabenwerk – Done with non-recyclable plastic

The invention of plastic in the twentieth century meant a real revolution in the packaging sector and in food preservation. Yet plastic is both a curse and a blessing. Mountains of disposable plastic pollute the oceans and the stuff is so tough that it takes nature hundreds of years to break it down. How wonderful would it be if you could have the versatility and advantages without the drawbacks? More and more governments are working on reducing dnon-recyclable plastic. There is even a complete ban in Costa Rica. However, an alternative is needed. The founders of Wabenwerk in Germany were inspired by Mother Nature herself.

Bees in their natural environment are also constantly working on sealing their larvae, pollen and honey in their hives. They do this with honeycombs that they make out of beeswax. Wabenwerk developed a cling foil made of this organic material so that plastic foil is no longer necessary. Bees play a very important role in the pollination of crops in nature. They fly from flower to flower and gather more pollen on their feet. Whenever things go bad for these insects, you can also see this reflected in the environment. Do the diligent six-legged honey makers still play an essential role when it comes to the livability of our planet? That may very well be the case!

SARA – More mechanical hands on hand in homes for the elderly?

The workload within the elderly care sector is set to increase at an unprecedented rate over the coming years. In about ten years’ time, a relatively large group of elderly baby boomers will need a great deal of care. At the same time, there will be significant shortages in this sector. Nevertheless, there is a trend that more or less coincides with that of baby boomers who are in need of care. Namely, the rise of service robots. The Eindhoven-based company Bright Cape has designed SARA, which is a Social & Autonomous Robotic Health Assistant, SARA already carries out work in two Dutch senior citizens’ centers on the work floor. Ironically, this robot offers a modicum of humanity in times when every minute of care is supposed to be spent efficiently.

SARA is able to chat with chronically ill clients, play a number of interactive games with them and even has a program with made-to-measure physical exercises. This allows her human colleagues to spend more time on healthcare tasks. However, it is a bit odd that a robot like SARA is supposed to make sure that the human element comes back to the care for our senior citizens. Wouldn’t it be more logical to employ a robot nurse for the medical tasks and thereby give people more time for a cup of coffee or a chat about the weather? All the same, SARA is more than welcome! Clients and care staff are happy with this innovative nurse on wheels. She is a keeper for them in any event.

Heat Power – Flexible turbines for peak demand

The first two decades of the 21st century were characterized by flexibility. And if it’s up to Henk Ouwerkerk, this should also be the case for consumers of large quantities of energy. This Dutch start-up designed a system that they have called Rankine Compression Gas Turbine. A steam turbine that can be switched on when there is a need for more power. Why is this so convenient? Large consumers often buy electricity in bulk. So when they unexpectedly need more than that, they tend to buy extra. However, this costs them a lot of money and puts an extra burden on the electricity grid.

By using the RCG system from Heat Power during times of peak demand, you can avoid that this ‘peak demand’ becomes the new standard. You can’t use this superfluous amount of electricity for any other purpose, so it’s a real shame that it’s generated for no reason. The steam turbines can be activated in the event of a power outage but remain inactive for the rest of the time. Ideal for manufacturing companies that have to deal with fluctuating and unpredictable demand.

We4Sea – Farewell to filthy seafarers?

The fact that flying and driving contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases is now well known. We all have to live more sustainably on a massive scale and every polluter has to be involved in this. One sector which is somewhat less commonly recognized as far as this is concerned, is the shipping industry. Container ships are essential for the transport of goods around the world, but they have a very nasty disadvantage. They use heavy crude oil and this is about the most environmentally damaging fuel out there. In fact, one container ship produces as much carbon dioxide emissions as no fewer than 50 million cars. So there is a lot of ground that can be gained here, as they pointed out by the We4Sea start-up based in TU Delft.

What does this international team do? They use data models to advise the maritime sector on how to reduce their emissions by a substantial percentage. Measurement equipment usually has to be installed for comparable initiatives, which is easier said than done for large ships. We4Sea uses a unique technology that utilizes satellite data, ship position data, weather data and technical data from the ship for creating a computer simulation. Real-time advice is generated on the basis of this data. This enables the crew to drastically reduce their emissions. These energy-saving measures are not only sustainable, but also make a considerable difference in terms of costs for companies. Because, of course, no one wants to emit more than is strictly necessary just for the sake of it.

Much still has to be done despite the fact that in recent decades considerable steps within the shipping industry have already been taken towards a more sustainable future. The sector has set itself strict targets. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50%. While such targets are naturally a welcome first step, they still have to be met. This is also easier said than done. For example, the Dutch government has not met its 2020 targets. Nor do  they expect to meet those of 2030 either. Perhaps the shipping industry will succeed in 2050 with We4Sea’s help! Their single-minded, innovative approach to a sector that is not known for its flexibility and sustainability has in any case convinced us to honor We4Sea with the title of Start-up of the Week!

Start-up of the Month: the storage revolution in Battery Land?

The month of November is already in full swing. However, at IO we’re taking a look back at the month of October. After all, we still owe you a Start-up of the Month! Each workday at IO you can follow those innovation-mad pioneers who are trying to bring the unexplored world of the future and science fiction into the present.

Our editorial staff will choose a weekly winner from all these participants and these weekly winners will compete against each other for the monthly trophy at the end of the month. And as we are not averse to a bit of democracy, our readers also get to have a say.

The winner of the Start-up of the Month October is … *drum roll* – the Swiss super battery from High Performance Battery Holding AG! They’re running off with the everlasting honor and this wonderful sketch by Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet.

/Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet

Got a taste for it

“Wow, we’re delighted that we’ve managed it. It was a breathtaking neck-and-neck race against Hawa Dawa until the very last moment,” says a jubilant Dr. Sebastian Heinz, one of the spiritual leaders of High Performance Battery Holding. ” This win is an incentive for us to keep on going. We are very grateful to everyone who voted for us. We didn’t expect that our battery of the future could count on so much support from social media!”

“Entirely in line with the quote: “After the game is before the game,” we’re now sauntering ahead. We are already looking forward to the results of the Innovation Origins: Start-Up of the Year Award,” states this month’s winner from Teufen, Switzerland.

Every weekday we select a European start-up of the day and at the end of every week, we choose a weekly winner. At the beginning of the new month, readers can have a say in who will be honored with the Start-up of the Month award. In recent months, the winners have come from all over Europe. Last June from Italy, from Spain in July, from England in August and our Eastern neighbours triumphed in September.

The monthly winners will also compete for the first Innovation Origins Start-up of the Year, to be chosen in mid-2020!

End results for Start-up of the Month: October

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You decide: who will be our Start-up of the Month for October?

Innovation Origins also chose another five Start-up of the Weeks last October. Now that November has arrived, we’re taking a moment to look back. After all, we still need to hand out our monthly trophy and depend on our readers to help us decide.

You and our editors will decide who will walk off with this wonderful honor. And to refresh your memory, here are the five weekly winners one more time!

Week 40: High Performance battery

Week 41: Etagrow

Week 42: Chakratec

Week 43: Hawa Dawa

Week 44: Vitibot

You can vote until 5 pm next Friday. The winner gets to be in the spotlight and earns eternal fame!

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Europe wants the causes of biodiversity decline translated into politics

Butterflies, bees, flies – some of whose species we no longer see around anymore because they have become extinct as a result of extensive, densely asphalted areas in between green areas. Plant species that are disappearing, an ocean full of plastic which causes fish to die because they eat it and can”t digest it. Everyone is now well aware of these problems that the behaviour of humans and businesses are causing in nature. But how do we resolve this? How do we do something about it? That is the key question that the EU must answer over the next five years. Society must go through a systemic change in order to prevent the mass extinction of animals and plants on earth,” according to scientific advisors from the European Commission. They therefore want money for research into the causes of the decline in biodiversity so that political policy may be based on scientific results.

Sounds logical, you might think. After all, a decision to ban environmentally harmful fuels, for instance, will have to be based on facts.

New direction

Yet this direction taken by the European Commission under the leadership of President Ursula von der Leyen is new. “For the first time in my career, the impact on biodiversity is going to play a role in political decisions,” said John Bell, director of the Bioeconomy in DG Research & Innovation department at the European Commission. It seemed as if he was relieved about this, because so far the subject had been left in the dark. Nobody really took it seriously. Up until now, that is.

John Bell, senior official of the European Commission states that biodiversity is playing a role in political decisions for the first time.

Political battle over land

For all decisions in all policy areas, the goal is to identify the damage or contribution that a project has on biodiversity. This will have to apply to all business cases across all fronts. As to how this can be achieved is likely to become a political battle.

First of all, the issues surrounding biodiversity take place on land and water which do not fall under the supervision of the European Union. That is how a British scientist, who attended the discussion during the Innovation Days in Brussels last week, reacted to the European Commission’s proposed plans. Member states decide for themselves how they want to organize their own land in their country. Which is not so easy to address. That’s how it is regulated by law.

Who pays the bill?

According to Professor of Environmental Studies Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers at Radboud University in Nijmegen, when it comes to the system change needed to restore and protect biodiversity, the solution is to pass the bill on to the parties that are responsible for the damage and who are making the most profit from it. Otherwise, the section of the population that cannot afford the transition to a biodiversity-friendly economy will not support it. To a large extent, the perpetrators are the large-scale businesses that produce, sell and emit harmful substances. In other words, multinationals such as major oil companies. Yet they were not at the table during this discussion. And there was also no one who spoke up about this. Which might well prove to be an obstacle in the way of achieving this objective.

New kind of business case

In the coming years, the work that needs to be done is to make sure that the core of a good business case is no longer only based on making money. The way in which a business burdens or benefits the environment and biodiversity must also be factored in, according to Visseren. That also requires research paid for by Europe.

The fact that it is urgent, which has of course been known for a long time, was underlined by Visseren-Hamakers. She used a slide for this which made clear, among other things, that a total of one million animal species are at risk of extinction. On another slide she showed that humankind is severely overburdening nature, including water, soil and air, and that this is a negative trend. In her view, the ecosystem is at present like a piece of cloth that is decaying at a rapid rate and whose threads are falling apart. “Makers of environmental policy have never managed to reverse this trend over the past 50 years.”

Money for research

Preparation of a strategic research plan with funding from the European Horizon Fund (around €100 billion) is underway and should be made available before the end of the year. This should help in reversing the trend.

Vote now! Who will be our Start-up of the Month?

Every working day we select a European start-up of the day and every week we choose a weekly winner. At the start of each new month, readers can decide who will be awarded the Start-up of the Month award. And next year (drum roll) …. but that will take a while.

The nominees for September come from Austria, Poland, Lithuania and Germany. The choice is yours. We will once again reacquaint you with the companies below the poll.

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1. Herbi Clean: Clean your house with acorns

Cleaning products typically contain a lot of harmful chemicals. It is not without reason that those orange warning labels appear on the packaging. Yet Mother Nature also has a cleaning lady hiding in her, as the Polish company Herbi Clean has proven. They came up with cleaning agents made of acorns which do not need any ominous orange warning labels.

It is actually quite odd that not more research is being done into cleaning products made from plant-based material. Why should we spray our homes with dangerous substances or artificial chemicals if there is a substance in nature that does exactly the same without the disadvantages? As there seems to be a lot more to be gained from this, Innovation Origins Herbi Clean was awarded the title of Start-up of the Week.

2. Parkbob digitizes mobility processes

Christian Adelsberger (c) Parkbob

Parkbob was launched four years ago with an app for motorists looking for parking space in Vienna. Within a short period of time, the start-up company expanded its services even further. Today, it is an expert in digital transport services and cooperates with Shared Mobility providers worldwide.

Four years after its establishment, a parking assistant service has already been integrated into Amazon’s voice control system. Now it is Alexa who is providing drivers with information about available parking spaces and parking fees. Soon Parkbob will also be available for other navigational devices and in-car systems. This service is always free of charge for customers. The real profit area is in the B2B sector, specifically in the mobility and automotive sectors.

Several factors led to the rapid growth of Parkbob: the decisive factors, however, were venture capital finance, expansion into the USA and diversification. Today, Parkbob covers a total of sixty cities all over the world. The collaborative partner is Reach Now at BMW/Daimler.

 

3. Sketch AR: Transforming the world into your blank canvas

Drawing is a skill that usually requires a lot of practice. Tracing something over another piece of paper or physically covering an image with translucent tracing paper are both possible. Yet now this can all be done in a more modern and practical way. Meet SketchAR, the first app that combines augmented reality with actual drawing.

The Lithuanian initiators combine creativity and technology in a whole new way and make drawing, a skill that you either have or don’t have, more accessible to everyone. It is a great example of how the real world and augmented reality can enhance each other. Its simplicity and combination of something analog with something digital convinced IO to reward SketchAR with the title Start-up of the Week!

4. E-Bot7  Automated customer service

The team behind E-Bot7 wants to help telephone customer services enter into the future by using artificial intelligence to ensure that customers are served faster and more effectively. As a result, queues of up to 45 minutes and frustrating repeated calls (due to unsolved problems) may be a thing of the past.

The need for customer service is greater than ever, yet this technology makes it cheaper and more efficient than ever before. And that’s how you save on both personnel and office costs. It’s a pity though that this technology means that thousands of call center employees will have to look for new employment in the coming decade. Nevertheless, the innovative start-up from Munich was selected as Start-up of the Week.

Start-up of the day: artsy engineer aims to conquer the world with a creative approach to water

Tijmen Dekkers van Deltae met de nieuwe wateropslag Delta X

Deltae Innovation Solutions B.V in Zundert tries to work with water in a creative way. With an eye on climate change, the focal point is a compact underground water tank designed for the agricultural sector, called Delta X. It is a strong and stable water reservoir with a high level of efficiency. Water is collected during heavy rain and stored for dry periods. The parts are recyclable and installation requires relatively little energy. Another important advantage is that this innovative storage system saves space.

The originator, the artsy civil engineer Tijmen Dekkers (23 and from the birthplace of Van Gogh), explains his company’s activities.

What motivated you to start Deltae?

It all started with a competition that I had won. That was the ‘Future of the Netherlands Delta Land’ prize from the Cruquius Museum. I had designed a concrete tank that collects and distributes water. The idea behind it was to cope more effectively with flooding and drought. I thought I should do more with that since I had won. And that’s how the idea came about for the company.

What does the company actually do??

The focus is on the Delta X underground water storage system which we devote most of our time to. The system is now comprised of an aluminium water tank that can be clicked together just like an IKEA kit.

It is designed to achieve various goals. Its underground construction means you can use the space above it. Rainwater is collected during rainfall and can be used during droughts. The construction is light and strong, so that the area can handle heavy loads.

One of the advantages of the light material is that it is easy to transport as well as to install. This in turn saves energy and CO2. The system is, amongst other things, well suited for tree nurseries, where it is currently being tested. Or for the cultivation of strawberries and tomatoes. There are various types of water used in the agricultural sector, but the most ideal is still rainwater. This provides a stable basis. Whereas with spring water, for example, there may be substances that are harmful.

Since aluminium reacts with water and that way produces ions that get into the water (which can be bad for your health, ed.), we are planning to modify Delta X. The material is now going to be made of composite, but with the same properties – light and strong, but it doesn’t react to water.

Besides all that, we advise and we talk about designs all over the place. Deltae is involved in a water playground near the railway area in Tilburg and has also designed the Corsospuwer. The latter is a creative solution designed to combat flooding. Corsopuwer prevents rainwater from flowing into drains, instead it sprays it onto your garden. It is a playful construction which also incorporates the heraldry featured on the logos of the Bloemencorso Zundert districts. The plan is to expand this nationwide.

Are there similar start-ups that are trying to do the same thing?

There are alternatives to underground water storage. Frequently the problem is finding the balance between cost, structural strength and maintenance. Usually infiltration crates are used for more effective water management, but they are less strong when it comes to heavier loads. Plus, our biggest advantage is that we are cheaper. Our costs for construction or transport are lower.

What is the reaction to your Delta X product and other services?

At the Bömer tree nursery, we are learning a lot from the trials. We are getting plenty of attention. Yet we often hear the question: does it work? Critical reactions are still up in the air as to the precise added value. You have to prove that it works.

What has been the biggest obstacle so far?

In the sector, you sometimes see an undercapacity of engineers who think differently. Or they think too specialized, solely within their own field of expertise. Then too little attention is paid to the big picture. I like to think ‘out of the box’. Maybe that’s why I’m also involved in art. That’s how I managed to gain some publicity with my ‘Nightwatch tea’.

What has been the highlight for Deltae?

That was winning the first prize at the Cities of our future European contest in 2018. It was a conceptual model designed to be used in South Africa. By using a demo model we were able to show how a city could be supplied with sufficient water.

What do you expect from the coming year?

Aside from using composite as a new material for the water tank, we are also involved in the Zundert tea plantation. That could do with better water. We are working on a tea concept for Saudi Arabia as well. And we – from the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Breda – are going on a trade mission to China.

And what is your long-term vision?

Many cities face water problems, especially when it comes to torrential rain. Cleansing and providing good water is interesting. We hope to eventually become a solid consortium, one that will expand and eventually have a partner.

Read moreStart-up of the day: artsy engineer aims to conquer the world with a creative approach to water

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

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

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

Is Germany going to be a new experience for you?

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

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

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

What kind of things?

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

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

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

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

How did you end up at APPM?

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

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

What kind of projects will you be working on?

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

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

Start-up of the day: bound4blue – full sail ahead for a greener future

The start-up bound4blue is helping shipowners reduce their pollutant emissions as well as reduce their fuel-related costs, aiming at shipping vessels in particular. The Spanish start-up has developed a patented foldable, wingsail solution that reduces toxic emissions which are related to maritime transport by an average of 30%.  It does this by harnessing wind as a complementary form of propulsion. The system operates completely autonomously so that the boat does not require any extra crew members. It’s possible to utilize the device in boats where other less efficient solutions cannot be installed, and it increases the level of safety as well.

On top of that, offering a turnkey solution to both existing and newly built vessels will generate enough savings that it will pay for itself within five years, something that has never really been done before, according to bound4blue.

Innovation Origins discussed the start-up with COO and co-founder Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz:

®bound4blue

What was the motivation behind the creation of bound4blue?

The company was founded by three aeronautical engineers. We saw that we could apply 21st-century aeronautical technology in order to solve one of the biggest problems in the maritime industry. We didn’t think about it twice – we just quit our jobs and founded the company.

 

What does the company have to contribute?

The shipping industry is in charge of transporting 90% of the world’s freight. Although being one of the most efficient modes of transportation of goods, ships have a direct impact on our planet and cause 14 million cases of childhood asthma and 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths every year. Currently, fuel represents 50 to 60% of their operating expenses, and due to new regulations ship-owners and ship operators will have to switch to a cleaner yet twice as expensive fuel. So, as you can see, this new scenario presents an enormous challenge for the industry. Fortunately, it can be easily and immediately solved by burning less fuel, and that’s where bound4blue comes in.

 

Do you think that there are many start-ups tackling the same issue?

There are a lot of startups emerging now and building solutions for the maritime industry. Shipping has historically been slow to change and adopt new technologies, but there will definitely be a tech-driven upset in the near future, and when this happens, these maritime technologies (such as our wingsail system) will most definitely improve the world.

 

What makes bound4blue different from other similar startups? What makes it stand out from the pack?

Our system is the only available solution providing: 1) Fully foldable wingsails that ensure safety in rough weather, and at port or in daily operation. 2) More maneuverability thanks to the rotation capability which makes the system more efficient. 3) Autonomous operation, with no extra training necessary for the crew nor extra workload on them. Bound4blue’s wingsail is complementary to other power sources (such as electrically powered boats) and is suitable for a wide range of vessels: from fishing to large merchant vessels (both retrofitted and newly built). Thanks to its characteristics, the wingsail system fits more than 80% of the global fleet, meeting the case-by-case requirements of each customer so as to provide an optimized turnkey solution. This full adaptability enables the system to provide fuel consumption reductions (and consequent emissions reduction) of an average of 30%, which translates into a payback period of less than five years.

®bound4blue

 

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole bound4blue process?

We know that the team will have to face more obstacles in the following years, but the biggest one to date has been taking existing technology in an advanced form and adapting it to merchant shipping requirements. It took us a lot of time to design foldable and rigid mechanisms which would strike an optimum balance between their price and the simplicity of the manufacturing process without compromising safety.

 

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

There are always ups and downs in startups. There is a graph on the internet that always makes me laugh and which I feel that I can identify so much with. The entrepreneurship path is not linear, and there will be a lot of hurdles to face and overcome. In order to avoid getting to the point of thinking about giving up, it is necessary to celebrate your wins when they come so you will be able to withstand the issues and concerns that arise in due course.

 

What has been the most gratifying moment/ biggest accomplishment?

I would not be able to say just one, but there are definitely plenty that I would personally highlight. I remember the first investors who believed in us, the first prototypes we built that actually worked, when we signed a contract for our first installation, when I received an email from Forbes notifying me that I had been featured as one of the 30 brightest manufacturing and industry entrepreneurs under the age of 30 in Europe … I truly believe that there are a lot of exciting and gratifying moments still to come, like the first sea trials of our system, and I am really looking forward to it!

 

What can we expect from you in the coming year/years?

Bound4blue has the best team. The design, manufacture, and launch of scientific capsules into space, the construction of efficient wind towers, or the deployment of geodetic-quality ice drift buoys onto the Arctic Ocean, are some examples that preceded our team and that mark out a technological trajectory for bound4blue. We will continue working hard to deliver the best products for our customers. The first installations will take place this year: a 20 m wingsail on a fishing vessel, a second wingsail on a merchant vessel and a third installation on a bulk carrier.

 

What is your vision for the future?

 Our vision is to power the world with the wind. The company is now working on a real-scale implementation on three vessels, and by 2025 we expect to execute more than 100 projects per year. In the long term, we will reshape the energy sector. At the same time during these past few years, we have also been working on a particular application of the wingsail system which produces hydrogen (energy) via the electrolysis of seawater, resulting in no pollutant emissions. All this at a lower cost compared to current production methods and with the ability to mobilize around the world in order to cover geographical demands.

 Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

We are very surprised. We never expected that our system would be so well received from the very beginning. We have now three projects in the pipeline and more coming soon! And that with virtually no commercial effort.

To check more start-ups of the day, click here.

 

Green plastics thanks to Artificial Intelligence

BioBTX, foto © Zeton

It is not just for the sake of our energy supply that we are still largely dependent on fossil fuels. The chemical industry almost exclusively uses fossil fuels as raw materials as well, for example in the production of plastics. That is why the Groningen start-up BioBTX wants to blast a new, green gust of fresh air through the chemical industry. The company is counting on artificial intelligence to be able do this.

A half-opened garage door conceals a tangle of aluminium colored vats, switches and pipes. Except for one technician, the BioBTX workshop is unmanned. It is tucked away somewhat, right at the back of the Energy Academy on the Zernike campus in Groningen. Little suggests that five people are working here on a machine which could turn the entire chemical industry upside down. “What we want to do here is to start a revolution,” says Chief Technology Officer Niels Schenk.

BioBTX has developed a pilot plant for extracting chemicals from biomass. The Groningen start-up does this by breaking down glycerine, a waste product released during the production of biodiesel, into small fundamental building blocks, namely benzene, toluene and xylene – better known as BTX. These in turn form the basis for all kinds of aromatics, which are used for many chemical applications. Examples are amino acids, sweeteners or antidepressants, but also polymers (from which wind turbines or cars are made) and aramids (extremely strong fibers that are used in bulletproof vests, for instance).

At the moment, we are extracting almost all of these chemicals from fossil fuels, resulting in massive pollution and CO2 emissions. By converting biomass into chemicals, BioBTX will be able to make a significant contribution towards making the chemical sector more sustainable.

Optimization with AI

But that’s not all. The company wants to accelerate that process using artificial intelligence. In a lab at the Faculty of Science & Engineering of the University of Groningen (RUG), researchers are using test tubes to simulate the operation of the larger BioBTX pilot plant. There they can experiment with different set-ups in order to determine the most efficient production process for BTX.

There are more than enough possibilities, because by combining different raw materials, catalysts and temperatures, you are easily able to perform 5 million different experiments. Add to this the fact that carrying out such an experiment takes half a day, and you will understand why such technology developments usually happen on the basis of a targeted selection of experiments.

Not so for BioBTX. Together with researchers from the Chemical Engineering department, the Groningen start-up approached the data science team of the CIT of the University of Groningen. Based on data from a small number of experiments carried out, data scientist Dimitrios Soudis developed an algorithm for predicting what would have been the outcome of the millions of experiments that were not carried out.

According to project leader Erik Heeres from the Faculty of Chemical Engineering, the contribution of data science ‘makes a huge difference’. “We have discovered interesting links between the type of catalyst or reactor temperature and the amount of BTX produced. That way we occasionally enter domains that I hadn’t thought of myself.”

By unleashing artificial intelligence on the data, you can simulate the real world and discover patterns in it that would otherwise slip by unnoticed. But it also offers additional advantages. “By using AI you are also able to make very accurate predictions,” says Niels Schenk. “Instead of drawing up an experimental plan, they are now coming up with their own suggestions based on their algorithm. Then they say, for example: if you have this raw material, it is best to work with this type of catalyst, or with a higher temperature. So you come up with information that you would otherwise have had to do millions of experiments for. In the long term, this gives an enormous amount of added value.”

Towards a circular economy

circulaire economie, circular economy
© pbl.nl

The application of AI ensures that uses glycerine in the BTX production process is considerably more efficient. But BioBTX doesn’t want to stop there. This summer, the company from Groningen wants to take a big step towards becoming a global pioneer in the transition towards a circular economy.

A circular economy consists of a cycle of raw materials. Instead of throwing away products when they are worn out or when we have a new product in mind, you can add value to them by reworking them into new products. So today’s smartphones will be tomorrow’s raw materials. From a disposable and a replaceable economy which leads to the depletion of raw materials and tons of unbreakable waste and CO2, towards an economy that follows the natural cycle of nature.

Translate this to the plastics sector and it becomes clear why BioBTX not only wants to process glycerine into new chemicals this summer, but also wants to recycle chemicals from waste plastics. This involves laminated or mixed plastics, which are now mostly burned, dumped in the sea or exported to third world countries.

By processing these plastics into chemicals, BioBTX wants to redefine the concept of ‘waste’, says Schenk. “In our view, waste plastics should become so valuable that they can no longer be simply thrown away.”

Once the pilot plant on the Zernike campus is operating properly, BioBTX will be able to start thinking about the next step: scaling up and commercializing their model. “Only then can we really change the world of plastic pollution and CO2 emissions associated with the production of plastics. Because that’s the goal that we all started with: to make the world a little better.”