Columbus’ Egg

Stardate 2013. We are on the journey towards sustainable development. The transition to alternative energy has created the right climate for innovation; there is a sense of pioneer spirit. Excellent concepts have been developed that are so simple that it makes us wonder why no one thought of them before.

By Bert Beyers

Translated by Alina Junk, Lara Nettekoven and Luzie Schmitt


What if you could have a power plant for your own house? A start-up company, based in Cologne, Germany, wants to make the purchase of a solar electric system as simple as buying a TV. Configuration, order processing and installation are all carried out by the company itself.

The Swiss exhibition platform ‘Umweltarena’ displays sustainable technologies: renewable energy for your home, construction, renovations and electro mobility. You have the opportunity to try everything out for yourself, where it is all under the same roof.

Wind turbines do not always have to be large and made of tons of steel and concrete. They also come in smaller sizes – like the handy wind turbine for your own backyard.

Students at the American elite universities MIT and Harvard invented a flying wind turbine. The turbine is suspended in a ring-shaped balloon filled with helium. At 900 feet, the wind is blowing stronger and more constantly. And of course, there is less trouble with the neighbours.

The Italian startup company KiteGen is taking a similar path. But instead of airborne wind turbines, they introduce towing kites. These kites go as high as 3000 feet, where their circular movements are being monitored by computers.

There are many great ideas in the offshore wind power industry. One example is a vertical rotor with a 600-foot span.

Another idea is a swimming wind power platform. The entire platform is built on shore and is then brought to its destination at sea with tugboats.

The most ambitious projects envision fully automated solar islands in the vast oceans. They are covered with solar panels and electricity is saved in hydrogen tanks. The energy vessels created in this process are collected by supply cars and taken to shore. When there are signs of a heavy storm the solar islands are submerged into the water and will continue to operate right after the storm ends. That is how far the idea goes. The concept is already being tested on a smaller scale.


The market for wooden construction is booming. The LifeCycle Tower in Dornbirn, Austria has eight floors. The modular construction system is designed to go as high as 30 floors. It is a hybrid building, half of which is built out of wood. Other materials are concrete, metal and glass. The LifeCycle Tower weighs about half as much as a conventionally constructed building. The main idea is to create resource-efficient high-rise buildings for the densely populated cities of the future.

The annual world market for natural fibres – cotton, hemp, coconut – amounts to approximately USD 50bn. There is competition for arable land with the food production sector in the production of most plant fibers on land. Seaweed presents an alternative. It can be used instead of polystyrene insulation tiles to insulate outside walls against cold temperatures. It does not rot, has a low degree of flammability and is resistant to mold.

Seaweed could also be used as a source of biofuel in the future.

Algae also bring the advantage of not competing for cultivation area with the food production. Algae do not depend on fertile ground: they even grow in deserts, salt water and wastewater. Algae fuel can already be purchased at gas stations in California.

Another US-American company is investing large sums in Brazil.

Algae production, however, has not yet been fully developed. The plants grow very quickly and therefore need to be harvested constantly. The production also needs to take place at a large scale in order to be profitable.


Each German uses about 130 litres of water a day at home. Wastewater from showers, washing machines and toilets has a temperature of about 20°C in summer and winter.

Heat energy from wastewater can be used in different ways. There is recovery at the house itself, from wastewater pipes or wastewater treatment plants. The energy can be used for both heating and cooling purposes. The technology has been tested and has a lot of potential. But it still needs partners, especially the utilities that manage sewage systems, which means public administration.

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the self-balancing vehicle called the Segway, has invented something new. It is a device the size of a refrigerator which converts wastewater into drinking water. It can be used anywhere in the world. The wastewater is heated under pressure and as it evaporates, it is collected again – as clean water. In this process, the wastewater’s heat energy additionally improves the total energy consumption. At a price of around USD 7,000 to 8,000 it is still quite expensive.

Bert Beyers is author and journalist. Lately he has written about seawater desalination and electronic scrap recycling in the factory magazine Separating.

More articles to the topic range prediction, future, trends, visions and utopias you will find not only online but in our magazine Be(a)ware. This PDF-magazine includes additional numbers and quotes is finely illustrated and best readable on tablet computers and screens.

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