Not Even Cheap Oil Can Keep Up with Renewables Now

Even though oil prices are at about $50 a barrel— the lowest they have been since 2009— this will not deter humanity’s transition to cleaner energy. For starters, oil and renewables do not really compete with each other, despite what many people think. Renewables are for electricity, while oil is for cars— oil is simply too expensive to power the grid. But even when solar is compared to coal and natural gas, solar wins the battle: solar is predicted to be the world’s largest single source of electricity by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). If this occurs, more than 6 billion tons of CO2 emissions would be avoided per year by 2050 – that is more than all current energy-related CO2 emissions from the United States or almost all of the direct emissions from the transport sector worldwide today. The reason solar currently makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market is due to panel availability and high upfront capital costs. However, because solar is a technology and not a fuel, these costs are expected to keep dropping as time passes and efficiency increases. The following graph illustrates this point:

solargraph Not Even Cheap Oil Can Keep Up with Renewables Now News

Moreover, the history of oil prices shows that oil will not stay at its current low for more than a year or two. While it may never return to $100 per barrel, it will not remain below $70 per barrel because almost $1 trillion in investments in future oil projects would not be profitable if that were so. Therefore, supply will eventually shrink and prices will rise again. On the other hand, as shown by the previous graph, solar will keep getting cheaper and cheaper. The question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take.

IEA. (2014, September 29). How solar energy could be the largest source of electricity by mid-century. IEA Press Releases. Retrieved from

Randall, T. (2015, January 30). Seven Reasons Cheap Oil Can’t Stop Renewables Now. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from



1. Background

Beginning of December and it is getting cold out there. Even wearing the thickest woolen sweater one starts to freeze and with increasing energy prices, switching on the heat becomes more unattractive every year. In fact, the German federal agency for consumer protection estimated that the average German family had to pay some € 5100 for gasoline, electricity and heating in 2013, which is a 34 % increase compared to what they payed in 2008c The average annual costs to heat a 70 squaremeter appartment in 2013 ranged between € 970 and € 10501. Compared with the amount that had to be paid for the same appartment in 2011 the costs for the different heat supplying sources increased, ranging from +7,7 % for gas, +11,2 % for oil and + 9,6 % for distance heating. As can be seen, the price for heating energy depends on the supplysource. For example households heating with oil spend some 20 % more than those heating with gas2. With the steady depletion of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, the prices for energy will further increase every year.

This does not only pressure the wallets of houseowners and tenants but can actually result in health impacts for the residents. Especially in England the term fuel poverty is well known and reappears annualy in the news. People who are simply not able to pay their energy bills get disconnected from the supplysources, a situation that foremost in winter has severe impacts on their health3.

However there are other components that influence the amount a household has to pay for heating energy. Most importantly, the characteristics of the present insulation of a building. The more heat it can keep within the rooms, or store in the walls to give backt to the livingspace, the lower is the energy bill. With a proper understanding of materials and investments into insulation the annually increasing costs for energy can be counterweighted and the one or other penny may even be saved.

2. Opportunity

Part of saving energy and costs is to understand the materials that are used for the insulation. The most important characteristics it has to fulfill are to shield the warm indoors from the cold outdoors (or in summer the other way round), store heat inside the walls and allow breathability to avoid a build up of mold. Clay is one of the oldest building materials known and combines these characteristics flawlessly. In addition it is cheap, abundant and an all natural product. It can be either burned to bricks or used as plaster. As opposed to concrete bricks, those made from clay have a lower heat transfer and thus a better storage capacity4. Furthermore, houses build from clay bricks are more durable and provide a more natural room climate5. Traditional plasters made from a mixture of fibrous materials and clay combine thermal benefits with breathability and are thus an efficient and cheap alternative to those made from concrete.

For the construction of new buildings it may be worthwhile to consider clay as a building material and benefit especially from its heat storing characteristics.

To see the great heat storage efficiency of clay we want to introduce the Pot Heater, which is this week’s do-it-yourself project.

3. Do it yourself – Potheater

There are some general advantages of the Potheater, such as saving energy and fuel and thus the one or other penny. Moreover it is an effective way to heat off grid as the clay pot can actually store alot of heat for a long time, while only requiring a small energy source. Combined with the simplicity and size of the pot heater this makes it a great alternative as an off grid source for heat. In general the pot heater may be nice to have in any outdoor gathering when temberatures drop: whether on a camping trip, in winter on the front porch or in your garden shack.

Besides the aspect of heating you can also test whether the pot heater can be used for cooking purposes in a similar way to the tradtitional Arabic Tajine or the Roman clay baker.

This project combines the practical work with natural materials with explaining basic physical principles of fire, heat storage and airflow, making it a great aktivity especially for school children.

Here is a basic list of the materials you will need:

3 x Terracotta flower pots (non-glazed), different sizes (!)

1 x Threadded rod or screw ca. 15 cm long, and 2 cm diameter (depeding on the pot)

6 x Nut that fits on the rod

6 x Steel washer different sizes

3 x Tea lights or small candles

Now assemble the pots as shown in the graphic below. The nuts and washers are used as placeholders and to fix the pots to the rod. Stack the pots into each other and make sure that there is 2-3cm space inbetween them. Furthermore, the inner pots should not extend beyod the rim of the outer pots. Now, find something heat resistant and stable to put the construction on, place a candle underneath the centre of the smallest pot and wait for it to keep you warm.

For more information you can find video instructions on youtube 

There are detailed construction guidelines available online:


potheater Potheater We Blue








Schermafbeelding 2014-10-01 om 11.46.10


E-Waste: A New Commodity. Is the future of Mining in landfills rather than in mines?

By Markus Haastert and Anne-Kathrin Kuhlemann


Problem: electronic waste in landfills
A recent report by the StEP Initiative comprehensively presents the findings of an ambitious study containing a large volume of previously unavailable data about the global accumulation of e-waste. The shocking outcome of this report is that by 2017, all of that year’s end-of-life refrigerators, TVs, mobile phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and other products with a battery or electrical cord worldwide are predicted to fill a line of 40-ton trucks end-to-end three quarters around the equator.

The report containing this frightening forecast was commissioned and compiled by the “Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative”, an innovative partnership of UN organizations, industry, governments, and non-government and science organizations. StEP was set up in an attempt to try to quantitatively understand and ultimately find solutions for a problem, which has a negative impact on the lives of more and more people around the globe. To illustrate the extent of the global e-waste problem, it is graphically portrayed in a novel format: the StEP E-Waste World Map.

Unfortunately, most of these no longer useful e-products are destined for disposal. However, gradually improving recycling initiatives in some areas are diverting some of them to recycling and reuse. The interactive map resource, which contains comparable annual data from 184 countries, shows the estimated output of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market and how much of it eventually will result in e-waste.

As the map shows, almost 48.9 million metric tons of used electrical and electronic products were accumulated in 2013, amounting to an average of 7 kg for each of the world’s 7 billion people. And the flood of e-waste is still growing. The StEP prediction is that, by 2017, the total annual volume will be 33 per cent higher at 65.4 million tons, which represents the weight of almost 200 Empire State Buildings or 11 Great Pyramids of Giza. Through this impressive effort of data collection, the magnitude of the problem becomes blatantly obvious.

Looking at the US, the news is similarly frightening: consumers discard more than 110,000 computers per day. E-waste is the fastest growing solid municipal waste type ending up in landfills or incinerators, with a rate of less than 10% of it being recycled. Worldwide computer sales in 2012 reached the 426 million mark. But what is even more alarming is that the production of electronic equipment consumes more energy, metals and chemicals than any other product in a modern household. The majority of the energy of electronic devices is actually consumed in making them (81%), and not in using them (19%).

In terms of metal content, E-waste has a higher concentration of metals on average than any other raw material, from which the metals have been extracted. It is a fact, that 1 metric ton of electronic computer scrap contains more gold than can be extracted from 17 tons of ore. A ton of used cell phones, good for 6,000 handsets, contains 3.5 kg of silver, 340 grams of gold, 140 grams of palladium, and 130 kg of copper. Japanese consumers alone have already discarded over one billion handsets, and with it 3,500 tons of silver.

Rather than committing these valuable resources to the ever-growing volume of landfills, it is more important than ever to work on creative solutions for their isolation and re-entry into the production process. This is exactly what metals without mining is about. The reason for this should not just be that many of the heavy metals featuring prominently in e-waste, such as mercury, lead, cadmium and flame retardants pose a real danger to public health, but also our growing awareness, that mining is extremely harmful to the environment, as stated in the MIT Mission 2016 report.

c09_metals01 e-waste Examples

Innovation: bacterial extraction
One of the technologies used for the extraction of metals from manufactured products no longer in use is referred to as chelation, a chemical process, in which the affinity of certain bacteria for a specific metal is used for the extraction of the metal from an otherwise inaccessible environment.

Microorganisms have been active in the mobilization of metals from rocks, minerals and soil for millions of years. Living cells purify and process metals and make these available to produce enzymes, vitamins and genes. Living cells, then, have the ability to process metals. Better, living cells can recognize and bind specific metals and could therefore be used to extract pure metals out of discarded electronics, if they were previously ground down into small enough particles, without any expensive and technically challenging smelting process.

Prime Separations (USA), founded by Henry Kolesinski and Robert Cooley, former researchers with Polaroid and Waters Associates and experts in film technologies, developed and markets a simple machine that works through the continuous extraction of metals on a thin plastic sheet. They originally designed a small, low cost apparatus, with which they were able to show the viability of the process using crushed Japanese cell phones supplied by Dowa Mining. The energy cost is minimal, the separation technique operates at ambient temperature and pressure, the main energy input is the crushing of e-waste, with the mass manufacture of the film remaining a challenge. The aim, however, is the production of a system, which can process tons of e-waste per hour, instead of kilograms per day.

The first income of Prime Separations is the development of on-site metal recovery systems for administrative bodies keen to learn how to reduce the dramatic stockpile of e-waste and avoid toxic leaks. In order to put the common knowledge, that one ton of computers has a value of $15,000 in terms of the embedded metals, to work to our advantage, the installation of a network of on site processing units to convert this expensive and partly dangerous e-waste into a cash generating opportunity seems to be an exceedingly good idea.

These separation units should eventually be installed on each landfill site, or e-waste deposit. They will generate revenue and reduce the strain on site. Advantages are obvious: the lifetime of the landfill is extended, the risk of soil contamination and leaking toxins into the water table is reduced. Cost of land in and around landfills is negligible and the resources are delivered to the doorstep more or less for free. A solid income from the final processed metal is guaranteed. With the implementation of this innovation the mining of landfills will have become a reality. Not just will the stream of non abating e-waste restock the commodity necessary for the process, our waste, but landfills grown over years, even decades, contain so much value that it should be worth to excavate them.

This relatively inexpensive technology also provides developing countries with the opportunity to eliminate e-waste, stimulating the creation of metal processing facilities like the one proposed by Prime Separations. If we take into account the reduction of demand for steel and titanium due to the introduction of silk geometry, and combine this with a proposed recovery level of 99.98% pure metals, including the toxic ones, we can start to see how this reduces costs and increases revenues, while generating jobs that are healthy and building up social capital.


c09_metals04 e-waste Examples

Potential: from mining to recovery
There are many more innovative approaches in the field of e-waste mining. One of the possibilities is the bioleaching of polymetallic industrial waste using chemolithotrophic bacteria. Another promising contribution in materials research comes from the group of Manchester University lecturer A. Vijayaraghavan, looking into ways to make the required film material more accessible.Some reports also suggests to use stockpiling until the necessary technology has caught up with the demands of the e-waste management problem. Considering recent advances, it should not be too long from now.
c09_metals03 e-waste Examples
Most research for now focuses on strategic metals, but it is obvious that other products containing metals could equally be recycled more efficiently. There is no reason why the metal components used in cars, for example, could not come from recycling, too. The challenge will be to shift the focus of a whole industry from primary extraction to secondary extraction, making a number of very expensive technologies obsolete to be replaced by others.
c09_metals02 e-waste Examples

The fact that much of the metal we already extracted is thrown away, has to be altered to a more responsible attitude toward the usage of our common natural resources. The market for e-scrap recycling is expected to reach a value of almost $15 billion in 2015. With technological advances we have at our disposal and which are constantly becoming more sophisticated, there is no reason not to adopt more stringent recycling rules, aimed at the re-entry of previously used metals into the production process. In addition, political pressure, could contribute a lot to force the industry to mend their ways. If future-oriented regulations are put in place, the industry will have to follow.


This text was scanned to ensure it contains no plagiarism using

CCcopy e-waste Examples  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Photos: StockXCHNG, iStockphoto, Flickr

Blue Economy vortex

Vortex power plant – natural energy from local rivers

While this idea is not yet possible make yourself as a DIY, a vortex power plant is a simple and solid technology with lots of potential. It produces electricity in harmony with nature.

A vortex power plant is a further development of a water wheel or a reservoir system. A water vortex power plant is a small, rugged river power plant, which can also be used when there is  a slight slope.The energy is caught in a swirl and almost immediately drives a turbine.

If you still operates a such a small power plant in a region together with the citizens it can provide a great symbiosis of economy, ecology and community feeling in addition to the production of electricity.


20 ingenious ways to produce your own energy

20 ingenious ways to produce your own energy

During the following weeks we will present you a large range of people who produce their own energy, based on do-it-yourself projects.

These can serve as an inspiration, and give you ideas on how you can experiment to generate energy.

4130014567_31edaf3330_z 20 ingenious ways to produce your own energy Blogs

The series provides real life applications of the Blue economy principles such as:

  • Substitute something with Nothing – question any ressource regarding its necessity for production.
  • Gravity is main source of energy, solar energy is the second renewable fuel.
  • Nature only works with what is locally available. Sustainable business evolves with respect not only for local ressources, but also for culture and tradition.
  • Solutions are first and foremost based on physics. Deciding factors are Pressure and Temperature as found on site.

1. Solar Water Heater DIY

The first idea is a guide to build a solar water heater by yourself

This is a really good video that eplains how to build a device that allows you to heat water through the power of the sun.

It gives you the main.

Even though the project can definitely be optimized, it clearly shows the amazing possibilities of the sun.

An energy turnaround without subsidies is possible by 2020

An energy turnaround without subsidies is possible by 2020

The phasing out of nuclear energy by 2020 is only feasible and financeable by using renewable energy. 

1312993729 An energy turnaround without subsidies is possible by 2020 We Blue

ZERI: an energy turnaround without the aid of subsidies is possible by 2020.

(Berlin, 13th May2011). The phasing out of nuclear energy by 2020 is only feasible and financeable by the use of renewable energy. So is shown in an innovative scenario from the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI). Prof. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker supports the model: “Through the intelligent combination of existing technologies the energy turnaround can succeed by social consensus, and with financial gains”.

“The expansion of renewables will be economically successful, when we use existing technologies and material cycles in the established infrastructure” explains Gunter Pauli, founder and chairman of the ZERI Foundation, at the presenatation of this energy scenario in Berlin. The massive expansion of a decentralised, regenerated energy supply will therefore be possible and viable, without triggering social opposition. “I am thrilled with the method” says Prof. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, former President of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. “The intelligent combination of simple energy sources creates synergies and efficiencies”.

With the use of these synergies, electricity can be produced  from renewable energy sources at costs so low, that the funding of the expansion will be unnecessary. The use of innovative technologies for wind, solar and bioenergy is more than a faster and more lucrative way out of nuclear energy: “the phasing out of nuclear energy results in great opportunities to create jobs in Germany and to achieve a worldwide leadership in technology” explains Anne-Kathrin Kuhlemann, director of ZERI Germany (ltd?)

Gunter Pauli´s scenario is based on three, already proved, technologies:

1.    Windpower without plant construction: vertical wind turbines that are installed in existing pylons make the construction of additional wind farms unnecessary. If one third of the 150,000 pylons in Germany were equipped with vertical turbines, up to 5 gigawatts could be provided. The cost amounts to about 5 billion euro.

2.    Biogas efficiently and as storage: Biogas generators enables the efficient extraction of biogas through a combination of agricultural waste and sewage sludge. If 500 of Germany´s 9,600 sewage treatment plants equipped with this, 5 gigawatts of electricity could be provided to the basic energy supply, with total investment costs of roughly 10 billion euro.

3.    Solar Energy without Subsidies: The third technology is a combined electricity and heat production through double-sided Photovoltaic panels. With a lifespan of over 20 years the costs per kilowatt hour are below one cent. The investment for a targeted capacity of 5.4 gigawatts is around 10 billion euro.

Through the combination of these three technologies it will be possible to produce energy at a cost considerably lower than by nuclear energy at present. With a price difference of 3.6 cent per kilowatt hour there exists-from replacing 15 gigawatts from nuclear energy-a saving of 4.7 billion euro per annum. Calculated on a running time of eight years, investments amount to around 25 billion euro in savings, compared to the amount of 38 billion euro. Through these savings, the capital requirements for the necessary investments should be covered, and in this way finance Germany´s phasing-out of nuclear power.