Monthly Archives: April 2013

Another innovative way to detect HIV

Dear all,

While surfing on the internet I came across this short interesting article in the paper.
Okay, it’s HLN but I found it interesting because it fits perfectly with my blog.

The article shows that there is so much room for innovation in medicine.
Thanks to a normal disk that we normally use for entertainment we can detect one of the most harmfull diseases known. One of the diseases that causes one of the most death in the whole world, not only the third world.

I find this really touching and I’m thinking do something with it in my next studies.

What do you guys think?

General consensus on the Blog

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for their cooperation and astute discussions.

Secondly I think it was very interesting to see the different opinions. As we are all engineers, I’d like to think we are all informed to a certain degree and found it hopeful that we all had the same consensus about renewable energy.

The general consensus (In my opinion)

Renewable energy is needed, and a big part of the future. Investing and researching new ways and more effective ways to harvest energy in a clean way will be a big part of the future (economicly, environmentally, socially, …). 100% renewable energy might not be for tomorrow, but steadily going away from fossil fuels was agreed by everyone I think. I also found it interesting that some of the issues in our blog, were recognisable in the ‘Solar Boiler’ blog. Such as equity, administrative delays, politics and of course we also saw that the financial crisis has a nasty habit on causing problems everywhere.

As for nuclear energy, there were some mixed opinions on whether or not to abandon it and go 100% renewable, or invest in cleaner and SAFER ways to use nuclear energy.

Thirdly I hope we can look back in 5-10 years to this blog and think about the progress that has been made. The pauverty that has been resolved, the Perpetuum Mobile that has been discovered, Robots that clean our houses and bake pancakes and Microchips that save our lives.

For the Solar Boiler team, good luck in South-America, and hopefully you can help a lot of people there! I think that you guys are doing a good thing,  at no personal benefit to yourselves.

Renewable energy progress report, Europe

Two weeks ago, the european commission discussed the progress of renewable energy in Europe and posted a report on the progress and the future estimates to reach the 2020 targets .


The report shows us the problems that lay ahead. I’ll be talking mainly about the 2nd point: PROGRESS IN RENEWABLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENT. The graphs mentioned will be found there. (The rest is very interesting as well, and could be some nice bedside lecture ;-))

The first graph shows a serious growth during 2005 to 2010. It shows we are on the right track according to the target. But after this, the amount of renewable energy pretty much remained the same. This already shows a problem.

A new analysis was made to simulate the progress untill 2020, which shows us pretty depressive numbers. By 2020, the amount of renewable energy would be only 75-80% of what was planned. The following graphs show us the planned amount of renewable energy versus the estimated amounts. These graphs are divided into Wind Energy (on/offshore), biomass energy, biofuel energy and PV energy. According to these estimated numbers, none of the above will reach the planned values with their current plans. With the biggest failure being seen in offshore wind energy.

The results show us that their will be even more effort and budget needed than initially planned. The last 7 years were used to achieve the first 20% (as planned), which means that there will a much steeper growth needed in the future.

These depressive estimates are partly caused by policy changes which scare of investors, regulatory risk, adminastrative burdens and delays, slow infrastructure, delays in connection, grid operational rules and ofcourse the economic crisis.

As we are still on track on the moment all these estimates can still be changed, with more effort, bigger investments, etc. Probable also less stupid investments, like the 450€ subsidies Belgium gave in the beginning (which will cost a fortune, which otherwise could have been invested more wisely).

I didn’t know that the forecasts where this bad, and hopefully Europe will raise the alarm.

Smart grids

In my last post I briefly touched the subject of smart grids, in this post I will go deeper into this subject and I will try to explain what it actually is and it’s functionalities.

Let me start by giving you wikipedia’s definition of what a smart grid actually is.  A smart grid is an electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to gather and act on information, such as information about the behaviors of suppliers and consumers, in an automated fashion to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity.  So from this definition you can see that a smart grid is designed to better match the question and demand for electricity to prevent the electrical grid to be overloaded

So you might ask why there is a need for this to be implemented. I would ask you to imagine the following situation where everybody comes home at about 5 o’clock and plugs in their electric car.  As you can see this would put an immense stress on the grid.  But it is not only in consumption of energy that possible problems can rise.  Suppose that everybody in a city or a district has a house equipped with solar pannels and that on a sunny day the electrical generation is higher than the electrical consumption in this district.  This excess of electricity will be pumped into the grid.  From situations like these I hope you can see that in the future company’s, consumers and producers will have to adjust their consumption and generation to each others needs and demands.

The term “smart grid” is actually a bit misleading because it is not the grid that will be controlled, it are the appliances that are plugged into the grid that will be controlled.

So now we have a basic understanding of what a smart grid is, what will be the functionalities of such a grid?

Regulate the supply and demand of electricity
This would solve the problem of overproduction in the example of the city/district that is equipped with solar pannels and is producing more than it needs.  In a smart grid buildings would be equipped by smart meters, when the supply of energy is high a signal can be send to this smart meters saying that electricity is cheap.  The smart meters then can start charging electrical cars, doing laundry, … all tasks that have to be done but that can wait for a certain period.  For instance you want your car to be charged before you need it again tomorrow but you don’t really care when it actually charges so it can charge in the middle of the night, in the morning, …. In this way the demand and supply are regulated to be in balance.

A smart grid will use techniques that improve and facilitate fault detection and allow self healing of the grid, so without the intervention of technicians.  This will be acchieved by a multiple route system.  But you can remark that the current grid also uses these multiplpe route system and that certainly is the case. However in the current system an other problem may rises that when one network is overloaded the power shifts to an other network wich causes that to overload that network and can result in a black out.  A technique to prevent this is by load shedding or a voltage reduction.

Flexibility in network topology
The classic electrical grid is designed for a one directional energy flow.  The next-generation transmission and distribution infrastructure will be better able to handle possible bidirection energy flows.

Numerous contributions to overall improvement of the efficiency of energy infrastructure is anticipated from the deployment of smart grid technology, in particular including demand-side management, for example turning off air conditioners during short-term spikes in electricity price. The overall effect is less redundancy in transmission and distribution lines, and greater utilisation of generators, leading to lower power prices.

These are some of the major advantages that a smart grid brings, but there are also lots of other one’s. For instance you will never again have to wait at home for someone to come and control your meter reading, because your meter communicates this automatically to the energy distributor.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!

Public opinion about money for development

Today, the people feel that money for development produces little results. Possibly there are two main reasons. Firstly, present crisis causes cuts in the budget of development cooperation. But therefore, the pursuit of a more effective policy is motivated. Secondly we need more and better communication about the achievements towards the people. This lack of attention can be explained by the apparent distance between development cooperation and the everyday concerns of many civilians.

Development cooperation is more than just moral obligation, it is about common interests. This must be applicable, even more in the current context of financial and economic crisis, where the disastrous consequences for the finances of our countries are a risk of losing the international solidarity.

It is inacceptable to restore our budgetary balance at the expense of the most vulnerable  groups in society, which don’t live here but need our cooperation to save themselves.

Mr. Van Wassenhoven: People often say that development cooperation is pointless, nothing changes. But we ( everybody who is involved in development cooperation) are actually not the persons who will really change something. The only thing we can do is support, the local people and especially the politics are the ones who can really make the difference. Because at higher level we have no influence because these are economic and social politics.

Riots are a way to have a great influence by the people, for example with a dictatorship or when food prices are set to spiral. They respond to politics.

Ultimate conclusion

The reason is the economic politics of market speculation, even food prices  are traded by speculation. One way or another, one day this will cause problems.
Inequality must be addressed as well. Nowadays large companies make sure that local farmers (often in poor countries) wear sackcloth and ashes.
The world leaders also have to look at the world trade because the way things are now heading, sooner or later it will go wrong, look at Greece for example.
In the poor countries unions have to start up to be a voice for the voiceless, poor people. In the nineteenth century  the workmen were passive as well, but when they started to acquire wealth, they refused to let it go and because of this unions arose which wanted more and more power. Thus we need to give them time and space.

Intermezzo: Robot Operating System

In my original post, I referenced the simplicity of the PR2, the robot I’m working with. Since robotics is one of the main technologies used in my thesis, I decided to expand on it by explaining how the PR2 works in a bit more detail.

I sketched a robot I made myself, in its simplest representation, as follows:

Conceptual sketch of a single computer ROS robot for computer vision purposes

Conceptual sketch of a single computer ROS robot for computer vision purposes, own work.

Central in this image is a computer with an operating system. Thinking of ‘a computer’ and ‘an operating system’, is a good starting point if you would like to imagine what kind of robot you could make. According to the encyclopedia Britannica, a robot is “any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a human-like manner”. What would be the purpose of your machine, where would it operate, and what computers would be around by default (or are most likely to be around) in that setting? These days, it’s quite likely you’d come up with smartphones, tablets etc., and with stricter embedded systems (like the electronics in a car).

Below the computer, I grouped the input and output devices (I/O). Some devices can connect as is, or may be part of the computer, other might require some electronics to interface with. Just with that, a spare half an hour and some duct tape, you could make this 500$ telepresence robot:

In robotics research, this kind of setup has some problems. Consider for instance an autonomously driving car (recurring example, but it’s a good one to think about…). You could kinda make it from scratch like with the above robot, by taking the car, some computer, and just writing software to make the two work together. Considering the complexity of cars however, and the complex tasks we would want the autonomous car to perform, this software would end up being very complex and require many specialists in a large amount of engineering disciplines. Plus, at the end of it, such custom software might also be very hard to transfer to even another version of the same basic model of that car.

To me, this is where the Robot Operating System (ROS) comes in. To be clear, ROS is actually a meta-operating system. That means it is conceptually similar to an OS, but practically is not at all an OS (personally, I wish one of the creators’ wives or boyfriends or something would’ve told them that naming it an OS is simply a stupid idea). Most people just call it a robotics framework… There are many other robotics frameworks available, but ROS specifically is designed for large-scale, complex systems in a way that makes them easily expandable and transferable as well.

One of the nicer characteristics, is that it follows a peer-to-peer philosophy. The single computer in the first figure can actually just as well be 10 computers, all running the ROS framework, communicating over a network. The ROS framework would tie it all together, and these ten computers would be supporting a single virtual entity, which is what you would call ‘the robot’. This way, the ‘computer’ in a robot with ROS is not usually a single computer, but rather would look like this:

A typical ROS network configuration

A typical ROS network configuration, Quigley et al.

As this image suggests, in the end it’s all about the network setup. 🙂 As we all know, adding a computer to a network as just clicking the name of a WiFi, or plugging in an Ethernet cable. This remains true in this setup. You, practically, can just as easily add another computer to such a network, and that computer can be anything from a single computer being added to extend the robot virtually, to an entirely new robot consisting of 100 computers. This is also how I would probably solve a problem that was asked about in the comments for that telepresence robot: what if you’re on the phone with your girlfriend, thus following her with the robot, and she goes up the stairs? Well, just put another one of those cheap robots (meaning the hardware) up there. Put the Skype on one specific computer, and just switch between the webcams of the physical robots by transferring the video using network streaming. The virtual single entity that, in the end, is the robot, is not impeded by the physical limitations and can switch between the hardware at any time. Nor is there really a limit on what kind of hardware you’d be using.

Robotnik Automation Modular Arm

Robotnik Automation Modular Arm

AscTec Quadrotor

AscTec Quadrotor

These two images and dozens more of examples of robots you can use with ROS, on their website.

I’ll leave you with one final image. Without knowing what these discs are doing, they might be controlled as completely individual robots, all at the same time as one robot, or they might be individual robots working together as an actual team (it looks like that is actually what they’re doing). At this point, I hope that makes sense, and that you see the possibilities as well. 🙂

A team of iRobot Create robots

A team of iRobot Create robots at the Human-Automation Systems Lab, Georgia Institute of Technology,

End of paternalism

Each and every one of us gets confronted with savings. The European ministers have agreed on the fundamental importance that effective development policy should be executed to provide a response to the current great global challenges. This means for instance that our policy must project their policy towards the policy of the partner countries.
We should stop paternalistic logic where we impose our vision on our partner countries. It happened multiple times in the past but we have seen that it does not work.
We are going to need partnership where all sides are on an equal footing and take their responsibility.

But what if the partner governments are part of the problem rather than part of the solution, such as DCR (Democratic Republic of Congo)?
Mr. Labille suggests that the civil society should be participated actively in  this partnership. In this way there is a democratic ‘ownership’ where the society participates as ‘owner’.  Such an approach is useful in states with a problematic government.

E.g. in DCR the Belgian government listens to organizations of the local farmers and support the Congolese authorities when they make effort towards familial agriculture. They will also stimulate the partner authorities to involve and consult the civil society. This is not paternalistic, just a matter of  mature policy dialogue.

Mr. Van Wassenhoven and Mr. Sirolli have an more radical opinion. They believe we have to shut up and listen to the local people instead of telling them what to do. They don’t have to go towards a same system as ours, we have to support them and most of all give them space and time to go their own way. It took us centuries to develop our system and still there are lots of improvements left.

So don’t off advice, offer people with passion the information they need!

Do you have an interesting, creative idea to involve the local people?

The mChip

Hi everybody,

In my last post I talked about five medical breakthroughs in medicine thanks to technology. In the fifth breakthrough I named the mChip (mobile microfluidic chip).
I was sorry that I didn’t tell you more about the mChip so I did a little research to make it up to you.

I found information on these two websites. Of course there are more websites but then it becomes to technical.

I recommend you to watch the Youtube-clip of the first link in which the biggest part is explained.

The goal is or was, because they achieved their goal, to develop a low cost testing device in resource limited settings and that this device could be transported and fabricated everywhere.
This was necessary to avoid long waiting times, trips to hospitals far away that can’t paid,…

Like Samuel Sia tells in the clip that indeed the biggest challenge is to fabricate the card or chip at low cost possible. In the other article I found some numbers and the total price of the card is $1 and the instrument costs $100. This isn’t a lot of money but they are still trying to lower the price. This low cost can be achieved because they use only 3 simple parts: a plastic tube loaded with blood and chemical reagents, molded plastic card and a syringe. Also low amount of molecules are necessary to detect the species.
It is possible to bring the manufacture in place because everything is kept as simple as possible. The facilities can be moved all over the world on short notice and produce the same quality and quantity.

What I find really interesting in this type of research is how a lot of different kinds of science are coupled in one invention and how the progress and development of one new technology has its positive influence on other research.

For example:
I find it impressive how few molecules can be inserted in the loop channels and capture the species you want to detect. This is pure biology, the bonding of anti-bodies
In the post-processing to get the results other branches of science are used. The chemical reaction of gold and silver, spectroscopy to detect how much light passes through the loop after the reactions of the antibodies,…

Another example:
The main idea was to fabricate this mChip but now the research expanded and also focuses on other developments. Like stated in the text they focus on the interaction between cells and their extracellular environment to form human tissues and organs. This research again connects different branches of science including biochemistry, molecular biology, micro-fabrication, micro-fluids, materials chemistry and cell and tissue biology.

The effect of inequality in the world


The struggle against inequality in each domain of sustainable development should be the thread of the new think-action framework, says Belgian minister of development cooperation Jean-Pascal Labille. The challenge of the poverty goes for beyond surviving.  Dignified work, including universal social protection and access to natural resources and their sustainable management are key conditions for equality and justice.

Opinion of Bieze:

Those countries with lots of poor people are in fact very rich in way of raw materials and energy , the common goods, but those lie mostly in the hand of few people. There is a problem in division of power.  The power of certain players should be restricted for example by shorten the expire date of patents of very cheap medicines.


Worldwide four giant lithium mines are known. Three of them are in the hand of multinationals who  can attract the best scientists, so small companies are powerless and can barely compete because of the lack of knowledge.

The problem of equality often lies in the politics of the international market speculation. An example is food which is traded on the market through speculation. History shows that this model will fail sooner or later,  look at Greece, Spain and Italy.  The inequity has to be faced to obtain for example fair trade.

Belgium will always focus on fragile countries because those governments rely on it. This developing cooperation plays an important part in the struggle against inequality, in financing global collective goods and maintaining peace and stability in the world.
Thus these partnerships should be maintained despite the reduction of budget. To find new financial sources, the minister recommends that ‘tobintaks’ or auction incomes of CO2 emission permits are used to finance the climate policy in developing countries, in particular regarding the adaptation policy in the least developed and fragile countries.


Let me know what you think about Bieze’s opinion and Mr Labille’s proposal.


100% Renewable energy is possible, the European Energy (R)Evolution

Hi everybody,

In many of our posts we focused our attention to the Germany and the German energiewende, but off course it is important to also look at the bigger/European picture.  Altough the Germans play a leading role in this process is their effort that helpful for the environment if the rest of us just keep on using coal, nuclear energy and other non renewable energy resources?  What can we expect in the future and is a 100% renewable energy production actually possible and feasible?

While researching for information about this topic I found a study composed by Greenpeace and the EREC (the European Renewable Energy Council) about a sustainable EU energy future.  You can find the study here, link, but seen as it it quite a large document I don’t expect you to read it and will try to explain everything as good as possible in the blog.

The study states that a fundamental shift in the way we generate and consume energy is necessary and must be underway within the next 10 years otherwise we will not be able to avert the effects of climate change.  However experts agree that such a switch must happen in a way that economic growth is maintained.  They think that the transition can happen in such a way that it achieves a lot of different positive outcomes.

To achieve this there are 5 key principles we have to keep in mind:

• Implement renewable solutions, especially through decentralised energy systems and grid expansions.  In stead of producing energy on a central location and transporting it across a whole country, we should evolve to an energy production where power and heat are produced close to the point of final use.  This will lower grid loads and energy losses.  Nevertheless the grid will have to be expanded to cope with energy production from offshore wind farms and concentrated solar power.

• Respect the natural limits of the environment.  This is off course a logic principle, otherwise we wouldn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

• Phase out dirty, unsustainable energy sources.  This is a principle we already discussed and agreed upon in one of the previous blogs where we had the debate about nuclear energy.

• Create greater equity in the use of resources.  Everybody should have access to energy, so that the benefits of energy services are available for everybody, north and south, rich and poor.

• Decouple economic growth from the consumption of fossil fuels.  The experts propose to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century

With this principles in mind how can we acchieve this goal?  The study proposes a 3 step implementation

Step 1: Energy efficiency and equity

The efficiency in the use of energy must be increased and this in three sectors: industry, transport and domestic/business.  The basic philosophy is intelligent use, not abstinence.  The most important savings would be acchieved by better isolation and building design, super efficient electrical machines and drives, renewable heat production (such as solar collectors) and a reduction in energy consumption by vehicles used for goods and passenger traffic.

Step 2: The renewable energy (r)evolution: decentralised energy and large scale renewables.

Decentralised energy is generated closer to the consumer and uses a local distribution network rather than a high voltage distribution network.  Because electricity generation is closer to consumers, any waste heat from for instance combustion processes can be piped to nearby buildings.  This means that more of the input energy is used, not just a fraction.

Step 3: optimised integration, renewables 24/7

A complete transformation of the energy system will be necessary to accommodate the significantly higher shares of renewable energy.  Nowadays renewable energy is seen as an extra in the energy mix and it has to adapt to the operating conditions of the grid. When this ratio changes and renewable energy becomes more important the grid will have to be adapted to accommodate for this change.  One of the solutions will be the use of smart grids where the grid has to be flexible enough to follow the fluctuations of the variable renewable power, for example by adjusting demand via demand-side management and/or deploying storage systems.

What would be the key results?

There is a whole list of expected results given in the study, I will only highlight some of them.

They expect to achieve an energy demand that is 35% lower in 2050 in comparison to today’s energy demand.  This shows the amazing potential for improvement there is in the way we use electricity.

Electricity generation of renewables is aimed to reach 1,480 GW by 2050.

The cost of electricity will be slightly higher but this difference will be less than 0.7 €cents/kWh up to 2020 in comparison to the reference scenario (a scenario that only takes in to account the existing international energy and environmental policies, so this is the scenerio that would happen if we wouldn’t change anything) that they use in the study.  However if you account for the lower CO2 intensity of the electricity production the costs will be 4.8 €cents/kWh below those in the reference version.

CO2 emissions decrease by 95%, in comparison to a 10% decrease in the reference scenario.

I know that this is only a (very) small summary of the study, but the point I want to make with this blog is that renewable energy is more than an extra in our current energy production.  It offers numerous possibility’s and is in fact an evolution that can completely change the way we live and the way we use electricity.

Thank you for reading and if there are things that aren’t clear for you, don’t hesitate to ask!


Picture to answer a question posed in the reply’s

Schermafbeelding 2013-04-10 om 13.20.34