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Belgian factories and bubble curtains

Take a tour of the Audi e-tron factory that generates its own solar electricity, and an offshore wind farm that protects surrounding marine life as more turbines are built.
Photograph by Harry Woulds

Mission Statement

Nuclear engineer, Leslie Dewan, begins her journey through Belgium at Zaha Hadid’s final design - the Port of Antwerp building. This example of striking modern architecture is symbolic of Belgium’s embrace of future-facing design and technology - with the country now making huge, but considerate, steps into the electric evolution.

From the buildings we inhabit to the cars we drive, innovators across Belgium are harnessing new technology to create clean electricity, and power solutions to some of our biggest challenges. Good things are happening here, helping to make our world a better place.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

The Grand Plan

The new e-tron is the first fully electric vehicle (EV) produced by Audi in their Brussels factory. Audi has grand plans and an ambitious target: by 2025, one in every three Audis sold will be electric.

Electric vehicles like the Audi e-tron are set to become more and more commonplace over the next decade – and car production is becoming about more than just the vehicle itself: the entire infrastructure of our cities and how we travel is set to be overhauled – not just the cars themselves.

It’s all part of a bid to positively change the current narrative and work towards a different future: one that is smart, clean and electric-powered.

But how we reach our energy targets, should be equal to the end result itself.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

Conscientious and Carbon Free

At the Audi factory in Brussels, a team of engineers swoop in to make their additions to another e-tron on the bustling production line.

The production of EV’s consumes a lot more energy than the production of gasoline-combustion vehicles. Processing batteries and creating complex lightweight materials, like carbon fibre requires a lot of power.

Audi have taken huge steps to negate these effects, and gone much further, making their Brussels site a completely carbon-neutral EV plant.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

The productive line

A worker on the cutting-edge production line lowers the EV battery into the chassis, embedding the electric power unit into the car’s foundations.

Unlike other EV production facilities, the e-tron factory in Brussels designs and assembles its batteries under the same roof as the car itself – Audi is the only EV manufacturer to do so.

According to Audi, this increases the efficiency of the units and allows for better quality control – whilst dramatically reducing transport costs and CO2 emissions.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

Under the Spotlight

Finished e-trons await final inspection beneath the bright lights of quality control, moments before being driven off the production line.

In addition to numerous other green energy initiatives that make the facility carbon neutral – such as the co-generation plant that harnesses energy from natural gases – the e-tron factory dramatically reduces its electricity consumption by using high-efficiency heat exchangers to control the temperature of different areas in the factory.

This innovative approach to heating the vast facility additionally saves an estimated 4,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

The Future of Mobility

The new Audi e-scooter glides along the e-tron factory floor, hitting speeds of up to 24.85 mp/h (40 km/h).

The e-scooter is actually part of a huge conceptual drive at Audi. Consulting with futurists about what the world of tomorrow will look like and how we’ll travel within it, Audi has developed its ‘future of mobility’ concept.

Born from this concept is the ‘last mile’ initiative - The idea that your entire journey could and should be completely clean and electric. The e-scooter acts as a lightweight transport for the last parts of your journey - from where you park your car to where you really need to be.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

Here comes the sun

Leslie explores the vast photovoltaic system that blankets the roof of the e-tron factory in Brussels.

With around 398,265 sq feet (37,000 sq meters) of solar panels farming UV light all year round, the energy system cranks out 3,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year – providing 95% of the facility’s power.

This saves the complex 700 metric tons of CO2—equal to the yearly energy use of about 85 homes.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

Belgium’s biggest fans

Positioned in the North Sea between Belgium and the UK, Belgium currently has five active offshore wind power projects totalling 274 turbines and 1186 MW of power (as of the end of 2018).

With 3 more offshore projects currently in construction, Belgium is on course to hit its renewable energy target in 2020 – but as the world continues to migrate into clean electricity production, and more wind farms like these are being constructed, people are beginning to question the environmental impacts of ‘green’ energy production.

Photograph by Harry Woulds

Power to the People

Erected in waters typically 39 - 131 feet (12 to 40 meters) deep, each one of the Towers is around 312 feet (95m) tall with a rotor diameter of 413 feet (126m).

The energy harnessed by each turbine is fed into the sub-station in the form of an alternating current before being converted to a high voltage current – This electricity is then transported through a distribution network of underwater cables on the seabed to the mainland - where it is utilized in homes and business across Belgium.

This clean electricity is a huge and visible step towards saving our planet. But beneath the surface, this seismic shift in clean-electricity production can cause big issues to our marine life…

Photograph by Harry Woulds

Earplugs for Fish

When building these off-shore wind farms - sound, or pressure waves produced by construction can be a dangerous threat to aquatic life. To reduce this ecological footprint, Wind Power companies are employing the ‘Bubble Curtain’ technique.

Air is gently released from a circular tube that surrounds the underwater site. This creates a curtain of bubbles, which acts as an almost aquatic equivalent of ‘earplugs’ for the fish, mammals and other delicate sea-creatures living off the coast of Belgium.

Sound travels differently underwater and can affect creatures over huge distances. The fish depend on their ‘hearing’ to both find food and to avoid being eaten; while mammals, such as the dolphins and whales who call Belgian waters home, rely on vibrations and underwater sounds for vital communication.

Photograph Courtesy of Rentel Wind Farm