Veerle's Sidenotes

A collection of thoughts on subjects of my interest.

January 16 2024
Home & Living

Clean Air In My Home

In a prior Sidenote, I discussed the significance of ventilation in our homes. This subsequent article addresses the unsettling reality that the air you introduce from outside may not be as clean as perceived. Given its invisibility and predominantly odourless nature, it becomes essential to visualise this by employing a device capable of revealing particulate matter (PM). Particulate Matter (PM) comprises solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, categorized as coarse, fine, and ultrafine.

Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Many people might not be aware, just as I once was, but currently, 98 percent of Europeans are affected by air pollution. The concentrations of particulate matter frequently exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 5 micrograms per cubic meter, with at least two-thirds of the population experiencing levels that are double the recommended threshold.

Particulate matter originates from combustion processes in the exhaust gases of diesel engines and industrial operations. It is also generated through chemical reactions with ammonia in the agricultural sector and the heating of buildings.

'Clean' Diesel & Petrol

There are still individuals and lobbyists who believe/promote that 'clean diesel' exists and that the newer ones with Euro 7 and Euro 6 standard are A ok, so we should continue to use them as technology solved the problems. A quick bicycle ride wouldn’t have to take long to reveal the stark reality of their cleanliness—or lack thereof. Petrol isn’t much better.


The burning of wood is another factor with a notable impact. One can only hope that it is beautifully dried wood and not fiberboard, plywood, painted wood. Trust me, you can detect the difference by the smell.

'Green' Pellets

Oh and let’s not forget the ‘magical’ green pellets. The marketing sounds wonderful. “Burning wood or wood pellets brings us a little closer to nature. It invites us to use energy more consciously. Because heating yourself with wood or pellets is CO2 neutral. It does not produce greenhouse gas emissions”.

The necessity to burn them still contributes to increased pollution exposure by adding more ‘Ultra Fine Particles’. To get a good idea of ​​how small these particles actually are, you need to know that one millimeter is one thousand micrometers and one million nanometers. The unit for the UFP concentration is particles/cm³. The unit for PM0.1 is micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³). Ultrafine Particle (UFP) particles are so minuscule that, upon inhalation, they enter your bloodstream directly and have the potential to cause damage anywhere in your body. See illustration below for context.

How particles enter the human body.

How particles enter the human body.

Every so often, I catch the scent of burning wood through the ventilation system when the wind carries it in the wrong direction, usually when one of the houses in the neighborhood decides to create a ‘cozy’ atmosphere by burning wood. If you ask yourself ‘which type of stove pollutes the least?’ You can find that out on the official site of the Flemish Environment Agency. (article in Dutch but you can translate it)

Premature Deaths

Roughly 300,000 premature deaths within the European Union are attributed to polluted air each year. Additionally, the burden is heaviest on the smallest lungs. Children, who breathe at a rate twice as fast and frequently through their mouths, face increased exposure to air pollution. Their proximity to the ground, where pollutants tend to accumulate, further heightens the risk. More than 90 babies die every week in Europe from air pollution (UNICEF).

A recent investigation conducted by the European Association for Medical Oncology (ESMO) indicates a potential association with breast cancer. While this connection has been proposed previously, a significant 20-year French study, involving thousands of women, now reveals that the risk of breast cancer rises by 28 percent with a 10 microgram per cubic meter increase in exposure to the most harmful dust particles—those smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). This difference is roughly equivalent to the contrast between rural and urban areas in Europe.

In September 2023, the European Parliament resolved to harmonize the EU standards of 25 micrograms per cubic meter with the more rigorous guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the implementation of this adjustment is deferred until 2035, pending an agreement with the member states. The aim is to have no air pollution by 2050 in the interests of public health, ecosystems and biodiversity.

Air Purifier

That's enough introduction to finally address the topic I intended to write about. I felt it was necessary for you to better comprehend the context. As mentioned earlier, the initial step involves using a 'smart' sensor, such as the Ikea product called 'VINDSTYRKA'. This device features a straightforward color scale and a numerical indicator. Once you determine the pollution level, the next step is to purify the air using an air purifier. For now, let's focus on Ikea and discuss the 'STARKVIND'. While I can't guarantee its effectiveness, it is known to be an affordable option. To make it ’smart’ you need to add it to the IKEA Home Smart-app otherwise it’s just ‘dumb’ with a rotary and push button. The reviews are quite good. Just like the other smart products from IKEA, the underlying protocol for this smart air purifier is ZigBee. And that of course opens doors to other integrations. You also have support for Google Home and Google Assistant. There is also support for Amazon Alexa, Siri and Apple HomeKit.

Ikea Vindstyrka and Starkvind.

Ikea Vindstyrka and Starkvind.

I personally own the VINDSTYRKA, but for air purification, I prefer using the AEG AX 9. Although it's pricier than the Ikea model, I appreciate its aesthetic and, more importantly, its effectiveness. I acquired this device before installing a ventilation system, and it used to kick in almost every time I opened the windows. On numerous occasions I had numbers that were in the very poor scale.

While it operates less frequently now due to the ventilation system filters also capturing particles, it still plays a vital role in my home. Indoor activities also generate particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, by burning tobacco, wood and candles and cooking with gas. This device will make it apparent how harmful these activities can be.

Clean Air In My Home

The AEG AX 9 display is straightforward, indicating the current mode and color scale that you are in. By connecting it to an app, you gain access to more comprehensive data such as PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10 levels, humidity, temperature, and TVOC (Total Volatile Compounds). TVOC measures gases emitted by certain solids and liquids, and you can track all the above mentioned metrics over hours, days, and months.

The AEG AX 9 iPhone app.

The AEG AX 9 iPhone app.

Dyson also has the Dyson Pure Cool.

What Else Can You Do?

The biggest of them all is ’Stop burning stuff’.
Walk, cycle or use public transport or share vehicle wherever possible. If you want to reduce the footprint of your food focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local. A must read by Hannah Ritchie. Eat less meat, particularly beef. Personally I only eat meat 3x a week now. When I do, I stick to 100 gram a day rule and it’s mostly chicken. Before I start doing this I consumed meat 7 days a week and in larger amounts. Honestly I’m not missing it at all.

Oudenaarde photo from Unsplash by moon-app .com

January 04 2024

2023 In Numbers

This might sound contradictory. You see, I'm not particularly fond of lists, rankings and such. I’m more of a numbers, data, statistics person. Numbers, in particular, captivate my attention during walks and bike rides. During my walks I usually listen to podcasts, but when cycling, my focus remains on the road. I frequently challenge myself with small estimations, such as predicting the precise time of arrival or estimating distances between points A and B. During walks, I might estimate the number of 'macadams' when approaching the 30 km sign in the village or a specific intersection—quirky things like that.

As mentioned, statistics are always enjoyable, and here's what Strava has compiled for my 'Year In Sport 2023.' Inspired by the captivating article by Scott Boms, I decided to craft my own illustration:

infographic datasheet showing data & numbers from my Strava activities of 2023 infographic datasheet showing data & numbers from my Strava activities of 2023

Ever since I own an Apple Watch, my focus has been on completing my activity rings, which entails engaging in at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, burning 560 calories daily, and standing up for a few minutes every hour. Personally, the daily stand goal holds particular significance for me, especially since I spend extended periods sitting while working. The watch prompts me to stand up if I haven't done so within the hour, a health-conscious feature in my opinion. I strive to meet the other goals daily for overall well-being. According to my Apple Watch, I have successfully closed all rings for the past 543 days. However, there was one day I recall when I forgot to charge my watch properly 🤦🏼‍♀️, disrupting the counting as certain rings remained unclosed on that day.

I'm thrilled to have achieved the set goal of riding 12,000 km again. However, we faced some challenges during the Summer and early Fall, with periods when we couldn't go for bike rides due to ongoing construction and installations around the house. Instead of being ahead of our usual schedule, we found ourselves behind when the wet and windy Fall weather set in. Since around mid-October, the weather has been consistently dreadful, with an unprecedented number of wet, windy, and grey days in 2023. Despite the challenges, we persevered. After each ride, we had to clean our bikes. Fortunately, the fenders provided substantial protection for both the bike and our apparel, but even with them, the bike ended up dirty after every single ride.

Photo of some of the many flooded meadows in Wontergem, a place nearby home

Photo of some of the many flooded meadows in Wontergem, a place nearby home

Fingers crossed for better weather in 2024 🤞🏼. Unfortunately, the first few days of this new year haven't been promising, with a few storms and heavy rain, even posing a flooding threat in our nearby neighborhood. However, next week I see some dry days with periods of sunshine showing up in the forecast, along with freezing temperatures. It’ll be cold for sure to ride my bike, but I don't mind as long as there's sunshine.

December 29 2023

Tall Swedish Wooden Wind Turbine

The world's tallest wooden turbine, recently activated by the Swedish startup Modvion near Gothenburg, reaches a height of 150 meters (492 feet) from the ground to the tip of its highest blade. At its summit, a 2-Megawatt generator is now in operation, contributing electricity to the Swedish grid and powering around 400 homes.

Modvion’s first commercial wooden wind turbine tower has been built just outside Skara, Sweden.

Modvion’s first commercial wooden wind turbine tower has been built just outside Skara, Sweden.

Externally, the Modvion wooden turbine closely resembles its steel counterparts, with both featuring a robust white coating for weather protection. Additionally, they share blades primarily composed of fibreglass, linked to a generator that generates electricity as the blades rotate. However, it is only upon entering the tower that the distinctions become apparent, notably in the form of walls adorned with a curved raw wood finish.

The robustness of the tower emanates from the 144 layers of laminated veneer lumber (LVL) comprising its thick walls. Modvion has adeptly manipulated the strength and flexibility of the walls by altering the grain of each 3mm-thick layer of spruce. The company's co-founder refers to this technique as their "secret recipe".

In the outskirts of Gothenburg, at the factory, the slender layers of wood undergo a process of bonding (glued) and compression to create the curved sections. These assembled pieces are transported to the site, where they are adhered together to form cylinders, subsequently stacked on one another to construct the tower.

Tall Swedish Wooden Wind Turbine

Through the utilization of wood and adhesive, it becomes feasible to construct towers in smaller, more conveniently transported modules. This approach, they assert, will significantly simplify the construction of exceptionally tall towers and facilitate the transportation of components to challenging locations. Modvion has a patented solution, which enables transport on ordinary roads, with ordinary trucks.

Wood enables building higher towers at a lower cost, which makes wind power more efficient since winds are stronger and more stable higher up. That gives you more electricity from each permit to build wind turbines.

- Otto Lundman

The wooden turbine from Modvion not only provides a sustainable alternative but also touts a carbon footprint that is negative in comparison to its steel counterparts. Modvion asserts that opting for wood over steel eradicates the carbon footprint of wind turbines entirely, turning them carbon negative. This is due to trees extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while alive, and when felled, the carbon becomes stored in the wood. The crucial point is that as long as the wood avoids rotting or combustion, the stored carbon remains sequestered. Modvion's tower, crafted from approximately 200 sustainably farmed spruce trees, underscores a dedication to responsible forestry practices.

In the future, Modvion envisions constructing even taller turbines and strives to establish a facility manufacturing 100 wooden modular turbines annually by 2027. Their ambitious goals, including a vision for 10% of global turbines to be wooden within a decade, align with the industry's increasing dedication to sustainable energy solutions.

Photos by Modvion