War on plastics

Tomorrow, the European Commission will meet to significantly reduce the use of plastics in the coming years and even ban them in some cases. Humanity uses more plastic than ever and that leaves a mark worldwide. Especially single-use plastics will be severely restricted, because there are often more environmentally friendly alternatives. Although man produces huge quantities of plastic, only a small part of it is recycled. Until recently. With the latest innovative separation methods, the mountain of plastic can be strongly reduced.

Until recently, plastic recycling was downgraded; of high-quality recycled plastic, only inferior products could be made, such as roadside poles. But TU Delft has now tackled that problem.

‘Plastic is difficult to recycle and a lot of quality is lost when it comes to remodelling,’ Peter Rem, Professor of Civil Engineering at TU Delft, explains. ‘The packaging industry already uses around 250 different types of plastic, but every brand also has a different colour. The biggest differences are the technical compositions of a plastic. Until recently this was the bottleneck. ‘

TU Delft has now made plastic recycling considerably more efficient by selecting it for density with sensor separators and air blowers, but recently also with more efficient water jets. ‘One of the problems with these sensor separators was that it was rather expensive and inefficient,’ says Rem.

‘The camera that looks at such a stream of plastic flakes had trouble separating it. If a certain type of flake is very close to another piece with a different colour, it was also separated. That was because we used air nozzles of 5 mm, but that air flow was too thick for the flake. The solution we have found is to work with very thin water jets that can blow away the flakes very accurately. After plastic is separated for density, you still have the colour problem. By separating them you keep pure plastic. This bypasses a chemical step (compounding) that is normally always part of the plastic recycling method.’

The implementation of this innovation is already being applied in the new plastic mining plant of Rotterdam’s Umincorp. In addition, Umincorp also uses the revolutionary MDS technology (Magnetic Density Separation) consisting of ferromagnetic liquids and specially designed magnets. Jaap Vandehoek, one of the directors of Urban Mining Corp and raw materials technologist explains: ‘The technology of Urban Mining Corp is focused on selecting plastic, originating from waste streams, as much as possible on density. Because separating the different plastics into categories makes it easier to recycle them. The precision of this selection process is currently at 97%, which at the end of the operation is very close to the quality of new plastic. The plastic becomes a high-quality raw material from waste. ‘


Money speaks louder than words

Once again this week, evidence showed that the consumer really is king. The Central Bureau of Statistics announced yesterday that the Dutch economy has grown again in the first quarter of 2018, and that the key role in that growth is for the consumer.

Consumption is a powerful political tool that can direct the course of industries. The food industry follows where the consumer leads. But in agriculture, opinions on the best way to farm our food are divided. On the one hand, we have the ecomodernists; farmers who pursue higher yields through technological innovations, such as genetic modification, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and who believe that farmland and nature should be two separate entities. On the other hand, there are those that believe in nature-inclusive agriculture. They too aim for higher yields, but they emphasise natural processes, clean soil, biodiversity, animal welfare and nature it self.

“Ecomodernists totally overlook the value of the farmland and all that lives there,” professors Michiel Korthals and Jan Willem Erisman argue in a Dutch newspaper. “Ecomodernism disregards the power and inventiveness of nature and nature-inclusive farmers, and threatens them. Therefore, nature-inclusive agriculture must be supported by farmers, government, science and consumers to a much greater extent.”

Ecomodernists claim that the nature-inclusive approach will fail to feed the world, but there is proof that it can yield just as much. Both camps see each other as a threat, but in the end, the consumer decides. More powerful than referendums are the ethical considerations made by the consumer in the supermarket: is this a healthy product? Is it sustainable? Is it animal friendly? Does it respect the farmer? Does it respect the landscape? Does it unite farmers and consumers?

Super investor Warren Buffett highlighted the power of consumers and their wallets again last week: “Consumer behaviour determines the direction of the food industry.”


Dual-purpose cow freshens the air

Although economic growth is almost always accompanied by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, there is some good news. Last year, greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands went down 1% compared to 2016, while in the 5 years before that, emissions were constant, according to a recent report from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM). The decrease is mainly due to the fact that less coal was burned to generate energy.

But it gets better: greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were 193 billion kilos; 13 percent lower than in 1990. Partly because energy companies used more natural gas and less coal in 2017, carbon dioxide emissions decreased to 49 billion kilograms. A year earlier, that was still 52 billion. In 2020, the emission of greenhouse gases should be no more than 166 billion, in 2030, the maximum is set to 113 billion.

According to the RIVM, air pollution has also decreased over the last decades, which means the Dutch almost meet the European standards for air quality.

In 2016, the emission of particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds decreased slightly again. Only ammonia emissions went up in 2016, compared to the year before. Reason? The amount of cows in the country. But even this is changing.

In a report published in April 2018, there were over 200,000 cows less on April 1st 2018 than on the same date a year previously. But there’s room for improvement there. Researcher Theun Vellinga from Wageningen University revived an old notion he has been advocating for years: the dual-purpose cow. The dual-purpose cow yields both milk and meat. The specialization in milk or meat brought us almost meatless dairy cows and meat cows that collapse under their own weight. The dual-purpose cow is more robust and is less prone to illnesses inherent to livestock farming. The dual-purpose cow can reduce the amount of cows in the Netherlands and, by extension, reduce the ammonia emissions.


Useful counterfeiting

A Dutch academic hospital has successfully and legally experimented with replicating a very costly cancer medicine. The product was originally developed and patented against a rare form of lymphoma. The active substance in the drug, for which the patent has expired, also works against other forms of cancer though.

It can now be manufactured at a price that is 70x lower than the original product of pharmaceutical giant Merck. This method is gaining momentum in medical circles. Many drugs are developed in the laboratories of universities and academic hospitals these days. So in fact, it is done with public money. Often, those discoveries are then sold to the highest pharmaceutical bidder, and any chance of price control goes out the window there and then. The high cost of medications is one of the main contributors to the enormous increase in our medical expenses.

The world should follow India’s example. There, a maximum price, much lower than the international price, is set for a vast number of expensive medicines. In addition, the Indian law makes obtaining a patent difficult. The courts in India block attempts from pharmaceutical companies to apply for multiple patents for one drug, as they often do in other countries. India calls this “working at the imbalance between intellectual property and public interest”. On those grounds, an Indian court recently licensed a local producer to manufacture a patented cancer drug at a fraction of the market price, despite fierce opposition from manufacturer Bayer.

Geothermal energy is getting hot

The deeper you drill, the warmer it gets.

According to a recent published research from the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), the market for geothermal energy is exploding globally. Due to climate change and the internationally defined restrictions on CO2 emissions, the need for clean energy sources is rising all over the world. Geothermal energy has proven to be the ultimate solution, tapping into the earth’s natural heat. The principle is beautiful and simple. You drill two deep holes in the ground and pump up hot water. The heat is used, and the water that has cooled down then gets pumped back into the earth. The deeper you, drill the hotter it gets. In the Netherlands, the temperature at 1500 meters depth is around 50-60℃. But drill to 5500 meters and it soon reaches a temperature of 175℃. Every 100 meters, the temperature goes up by around 3℃.

Worldwide, the renewable energy revolution is causing a shift in which countries are energy suppliers. East Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia are already building power plants larger than 100 megawatts. Countries such as Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Honduras have a huge potential below their feet. According to the GEA, Chile started to set up about 50 geothermal projects. Indonesia is expanding its capacity to 4400 megawatts.

Iceland in particular, known as the Saudi Arabia of geothermal energy, has been leading the pack for years. In the city of Reykjavík, 99% of households and many industrial companies use geothermal heat. There is not a single household in all of Iceland that still uses boilers or water heaters that run on natural gas or oil. And that has also come to the attention of the Chinese. A month ago, the Iceland GeoSurvey and the China Geological Survey signed a cooperation agreement.

Even though the Netherlands is a low-lying country, geothermal heat is located deep down, which makes the drilling and additional installations expensive. By comparison: drill down 1500 m on Java and Sumatra and the water is already 200℃. There is still a lot we don’t know about what goes on below the earth’s surface, so in the coming years, explorations below the Dutch soil will need to tell us more.

“We want to know which cities we could run on geothermal energy,” says project manager Eveline Rosendaal of Energy Management Netherlands (EBN). At the end of this month, EBN will launch a proposal to kick the use of geothermal energy in the Netherlands into a higher gear.


Buffett vs. Musk

When titans fight, the world wins.
The past few days, two economic powerhouses were battling it out with each other on Twitter. Tech tycoon Elon Musk and investment oracle Warren Buffett were having a cat fight about the best way to run a business. Buffett has been defending the so-called “moat” principle for years, which entails that you should invest only in companies with a safe moat of competitive advantage. Musk ridiculed that (“moats are lame”) by claiming that it is a prehistoric approach and that moats are obstacles to innovations rather than advantages.
Moat or no moat, it seems the Oracle of Omaha and the Playboy of Palo Alto take pleasure in going head to head. And the world seems to be the winner of the fight.
Two years ago, emotions ran high on how a carbon-free energy network should be realized in the state of Nevada. Buffett and his NV Energy wanted do so by buying clean energy from centralized large-scale plants. Musk and his SolarCity wanted to integrate in a more decentralised way, by setting up a network using solar and battery storage technology. Buffett benefited from the status quo as he had a monopoly position in Nevada, but still used fossil fuels extensively. Musk emphasized the advantages of solar panels on roofs free from utility companies: free choice by the public, environmental benefits, less strain on the energy network and more efficient energy management.
Last year, the titanic struggle of both energy giants resulted in the historic AB 405-law, also known as the ‘Solar Bill of Rights of Nevada’. This law paved the way for an explosive increase in clean energy applications. And the outlook is bright; last week we learned that by 2030, 50% of energy used in the state of Nevada will come from solar, wind and geothermal energy.

Breathe in, breathe out

Air pollution is now public enemy number 1


The numbers are shocking: every 4.5 seconds, someone somewhere dies from the consequences of polluted air. That’s 7 million people a year.

According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) published yesterday, more than 90% of the people on earth are breathing polluted air. The good news: never before has there been so much international political interest for air pollution and more cities than ever are monitoring it. Data for the research was collected in over 4,300 cities in 108 countries since 2016.

“The political interest in this immense danger to public health is increasing”, says Dr. Maria Neira of the WHO. “The increase in cities collecting air pollution data reflects a growing ambition to improve the air quality.” And that is good news. Increasingly, local authorities take measures against air pollution. For instance, Mexico City wants to ban diesel cars for personal use by 2025, and the German government is also putting restrictions on them. India started an initiative to connect houses to clean LPG and the port of Rotterdam will capture and store CO2 underground within the next 2 years.

For now, it’s everyone’s problem: particulate matter in the air we breathe penetrates deep into the lungs and the cardiovascular system. There, it causes infections, heart disease, asthma, lung cancer and other deadly diseases. Particle pollution, a mix of sulphates, nitrates and black carbon, is largely emitted by the transport, manufacturing industry, energy and agricultural sectors. The polluted outdoor air causes more than 4 million deaths every year, mainly in big cities. But also inside, the air is unhealthy. Three billion people (40 percent of the world’s population) have no proper heating or cooking stove at home, but use heavily polluting methods. As a result, a further 3 million people die each year, mostly women and children.

“I fear that in the absence of stricter legislation, air pollution will remain the greatest risk to global public health” says Neira.

At the end of this year, the first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health (30 October – 1 November 2018) will take place in Geneva, Switzerland and the world will have to take strong action if we want to beat air pollution.

EU finally bans bee killers

Last Friday, the EU member states agreed to a ban on neonicotinoids. These chemical pesticides are used both to protect crops from insects and to coat seeds. A German study last year showed that 75% of flying insects have disappeared in the last 27 years. Due to habitat reduction and pesticide poisoning, the bee population is slowly dying. This will also put food security at a serious risk. After all, (bumble) bees are responsible for the pollination of food crops and fruit trees.

Three different types of neonicotinoids will now be prohibited. The main difference with many other pesticides is that this chemical permeates the plant from root to top. It is a killer for flying insects. Despite the extensive lobbying by manufacturers, agricultural organizations and the sugar industry, most EU states voted in favor of the ban. Unfortunately, the ban does not extend to the greenhouse horticultural sector.

In future, pesticides will no longer be a viable solution for crop protection. Certain insects become immune to the poison. In addition, the insecticides influence the soil conditions of agricultural land in particular.

Progressive companies are performing ongoing research into biological pesticides and other forms of fertilisation in their laboratories. By using so-called ‘natural enemies’, difficult pests can be controlled with bacteria, fungi, lice and other insects. In some cases, these ‘products’ are already produced on an industrial scale. The time of the pesticides seems to be reaching its end.



World in motion 

This week, city expert Robert Muggah graced Rotterdam with his presence during the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. At the invitation of the international Impact Investors Network ‘Nexus’, the successful writer and founder of Igarapé Institute presented fantastic new interactive world maps, based on vast quantities of data, that show the urban vulnerability.

His international audience marvelled at the presentation, and at the vast quantity of data that was collected over a period of decades and used to visualise major world affairs at a glance: urbanisation flows, expanding and shrinking glacial areas, deforestation, migration flows, air pollution; “This is the best tool you’ll come across this month”, his conversation partner and city visionary Thomas Ermacora ensures us.

The animated visualisations are simultaneously gorgeous and scary, but should be seen by every self-respecting citizen of the world. The maps help to raise awareness about human influence on the planet.

Muggah spoke with passion in his voice about an old idea coming back in vogue: cities should not only be economic centres, they should also be at the core of our political decision-making.

Muggah has searched the world, from Syria to Singapore, Seoul and beyond, and explains how we can build sturdier cities by using six principles. “Cities are where the future will start. They are open, creative, dynamic, democratic, cosmopolitan and sexy,” says Muggah. “They are the perfect antidote against reactionary nationalism.”

Have a look at the interactive world maps here:https://earthtime.org/explore



Solar has become the cheapest new form of energy in nearly 60 countries worldwide. Developing economies, including China, Brazil, and India, committed $177 billion to renewables, a hike of 20 percent, while investments from developed countries were down 19 percent.

A report about global trends in renewable energy investments shows that – worldwide – the new energy construction projects and investment emphasis are concentrated in solar. The world installed almost 100 gigawatts of new solar projects in 2017. This is more than the additions of coal and gas. The report of the UN, a german university and Bloomberg reflects a strong emphasis on solar energy.

By far, the leading location for renewable energy investment in 2017 was China, which accounted for total $126.6 billion in global investment, the highest figure ever. Solar investment alone in China was $86.5 billion. In contrast, U.S. investment in all renewables fell by 6 percent from 2016 and totaled only $40.5 billion.

Costs for solar energy continue to fall. Photovoltaic panels dropped down another 15 percent from a year earlier and down 72 percent since 2009. A fall in capital costs combined with efficiency improvements contributed to that price drop.

Although the total amount of energy coming from renewable resources is still dwarfed by that coming from fossil fuels, because of all the existing energy infrastructure, it is growing. The proportion of world electricity generated by wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydro power rose from 11 percent in 2016 to 12.1 percent in 2017. (Ten years ago, that all-renewables figure was five percent).

The future of investments in renewables could be changing, as developed countries have started dropping government price supports, while countries with developing economies, such as Mexico and countries in the Middle East, are providing more support.

The foreword to the UN report singled out China as the leader.

(Source: Daily Kos)