Two Tripp Trapp chairs: One 30 years old (left) and another that is new (right).
The owner’s name proudly engraved on the back of the new chair.

One of the great appeals of the Tripp Trapp chair is its use of wood, which offers its own warmth and aesthetics. So much better than plastic! On Thursday, 2019-06-13, we assembled our third – and probably last – Tripp Trapp chair. The other two chairs were purchased when our children were about six months old, in 1984 and 1989 respectively. They are now about 35 and 30 years old.

This iconic adjustable wooden chair for children was developed by a local (Norwegian) furniture designer in 1972 for a local (Norwegian) furniture manufacturer. When we bought the first chair, we were living in the same county (Møre og Romsdal) where the chair was made. Both the first two chairs were made by Norwegian workers in Norway. By purchasing the chairs, we felt we were supporting the local economy.

Fitting a globalized world, the company producing the chair is now owned by a Belgium investment company, itself fully owned by a South Korean investment company. The new chair was made in Romania. Today, I feel I am helping a foreign billionaire increase his wealth.

The name Tripp Trapp is derived from the game tripp-trapp-tresko (Norwegian) = Tic-tac-toe (American English) = noughts and crosses (British English).

Furniture design inspires myths. In the case of Tripp Trapp, it is that Peter Opsvik (1939 – ), the designer, couldn’t find a chair that could position his son at table height. Tripp Trapp was Opsvik’s response to that situation.

Years ago, we visited Opsvik’s Cylindra workshop in Sykkylven, to see his exhibition of sculptural furniture. They lacked the functionality of the Tripp Trapp, and seemed pretentious. I was not impressed. In fact, none of Opsvik’s other designs appeal to me.

The Furniture Museum, in the same village, Sykkylven, was much more interesting, for it put into perspective how and why the furniture industry developed. Two words explain it all: poverty and necessity.

The furniture manufacturer, Stokke AS started as Møller & Stokke, a partnership, in 1932 by Georg Stokke and Bjarne Møller. It was located near Ålesund, which became the locus of the Norwegian furniture industry. In 1944, it was converted to an aksjeselskap (AS) = limited liability company. Bjarne Møller sold his interest in the company in 1955, and the company changed its name to Stokke Fabrikker AS = Stokke Factories Ltd. Since 2014, the company has been owned by NXMH, an investment company based in Belgium, fully owned by NXC in South Korea. NXC is the largest shareholder in NEXON Corporation, a Korean video game publisher.

Tripp Trapp did not sell well in the beginning, but a news segment on Norwegian television in 1974 sparked interest. By 2016 Tripp Trapp had sold more than 10 million chairs.

The Norwegian Wikipedia article on the chair reports that it has been the subject of over 500 cases where other companies have made almost exact copies of the Tripp Trapp chair. One hundred and thirty of these cases have been tried in court, with Stokke winning most cases. The Supreme Court in Norway, along with other courts in Denmark and Germany, have stated that the Tripp Trapp design is an intellectual property. This means that royalties will have to be paid on the chair for the life of the designer, plus 70 years. Even if Opsvik died tomorrow, it means that this chair design will remain out of the public domain, until 2090.

Tripp Trapp has a distinctive design that is characterized by two boards (a seat and footrest) that can be placed at different heights so that the child can sit on the chair at the correct height to the table with feet firmly planted on the lower board. Since both boards are adjustable not only in height, but also depth, the chair can be adjusted to accommodate the child as s/he grows. The chair has a height of 790 mm, occupies a depth of 490 mm and has a width of 460 mm. It will support an adult weighing up to 110 kg.

All our Tripp Trapp chairs have been made from solid as well as laminated beech components. The chair is also available in natural and painted beech in numerous colour combinations, as well as in ash and oak. This last chair also had a name, Trish. engraved on its back.

The rationale behind purchasing this chair is that a dining room/ kitchen table has a fixed height, so that it is the chair that has to be adjustable. The reason the table is fixed, is that multiple people have to sit around it. In other circumstances, a table/ desk/ working surface just has to accommodate a single person. In this situation, the sitting height of the chair can be adjusted so that the user can have her/his feet comfortably on the floor. Then, a height-adjustable, sit-stand work surfaces can easily adjusted to accommodate user anatomy – elbow height especially – allowing for varied work postures, when sitting or standing.

In 2013, together with Danish furniture manufacturer Evomove, Opsvik launched a new chair he claims is described by consumers and test panels as the world’s best high chair, Nomi. Unfortunately, I am not sure that this chair is suitable for an adult. It is totally unappealing, regardless of its ergonomic and other claims.

The Nomi chair just doesn’t seem appropriate for an adult. The massive amount of plastic used in its construction, gives a vastly different aesthetic, compared to the Tripp Trapp chair. (Photo: Evomove)

At a price of almost NOK 1 900, (USD 200) in beech/ ash or NOK 2 100 in oak, for the basic model, the Tripp Trapp chair is not cheap. However, used chairs abound. There are currently 48 of them on offer in Trøndelag county on the most popular website, at an average price somewhere around NOK 500.

The most basic model of the Nomi chair is even more expensive at NOK 2 200. Its price is an outrageous USD 380 at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale, Michigan. I could not find any Nomi chairs for sale, used.

A Timeline

We ordered the Tripp Trapp chair on 2019-06-04 at 16:45. This is acknowledged by Stokke in a separate email.

A message arrived saying that the chair had been sent, complete with engraving on 2019-05-05 at 17:20 (24 hours 35 minutes later). Oddly, Stokke was using UPS to send a parcel in Norway. This is the first time that I have ever had something from Norway sent by UPS.

A request for an evaluation of our purchasing experience arrived on the same date at 21:15 (3 hours 55 minutes later). What sort or evaluation are these people expecting? We had not yet received the product.

A reminder for this evaluation arrived on 2019-06-07 at 09:12 ( 35 hours 57 minutes later). Again, what are these people expecting? We still had not yet received the product.

An e-mail arrived saying that UPS has attempted to deliver the product on 2019-06-12 at 08:50 ( 6 days 15 hours 30 minutes after being sent). It is a very interesting email, since Trish was on scaffolding on our house painting, at this very moment, and there was no sign of any delivery vehicle anywhere.

Despite both Stokke and Bring as well as the Norwegian Post Office registering our telephone number and address to send out an SMS, no SMS or email was received to say the chair is ready to be picked up at our local postal pick-up point. Why did you ask for this information if you are not going to use it?

The chair was picked up at Co-op Extra in Straumen on 2019-06-12 at about 19:00.

A notice was received by snail mail saying that the chair could be picked up. This was delivered 2019-06-13 at about 9:00.

The chair was assembled 2019-06-13 at about 12:00. The instructions provided were adequate. Immediately after this, the chair was in use.

Bespoke Furniture

New, inexpensive Ikea Poäng chairs and footstools, that have not been able to create sustainable employment opportunities for anyone living locally, or anyone I know, personally.

Back in 1978, newly wed Patricia and Brock wanted to buy furniture for their New Westminster apartment. Despite Ikea opening its first store in Canada in 1976 in nearby Richmond, we decided not to buy two arm chairs and a three-seater sofa there or from any of the other assortment of furniture palaces, emporiums or warehouses to be found in Greater Vancouver. Instead, we found a small, custom furniture workshop on Hastings Street, in Vancouver, and a man who could make furniture to order, or at least to his fairly unique, minimalist design. The result was no more expensive than the equivalent to be found at Ikea.

In 2019, not so young Patricia and Brock are contemplating acquiring replacement furniture for their living room. They have only had their current sofa set for about eleven years, but it is showing its age. The set was about twenty years old, when it was purchased used for about 10% of its new price. We never actually owned new living room chairs or sofas in Norway, until May 2019, when on impulse we purchased two Poäng chairs, from Ikea in Trondheim. These chairs cost about NOK 800 (USD 93) each, while the footstools cost about NOK 500 (USD 58) each. Further information about the Poäng can be found here.

Our standard living room chair purchase is a used high-backed Siesta chair, and we would pay about NOK 500 for each of them. This chair was designed by Ingmar Relling in 1965. These are becoming harder to find, at least used, and people are wanting to sell them not so much as inexpensive seating, but as examples of exclusive mid twentieth century Scandinavian furniture. Of the four we have purchased in the past, two have been given away to people who had a pressing and immediate need for furniture, while the other two have been relocated to another room in our house. The new price of our version of Siesta chairs is NOK 14 900 (USD 1 700) each. Even the footstool costs NOK 6 250 (USD 700). See here.

One of the advantages of living in a well regulated society, is the ample availability of statistics. There is a population register that records the official addresses of everyone in the country. SSB (Statistisk sentralbyrå = Statistics Norway) is able to report that the population of Inderøy was 6 804 at the beginning of 2019. Incomes and deductible expenses are public knowledge, as are many other statistics about people and their spending habits.

From the collected statistical information and other data, SIFO (Statens Institutt for Forbruksforskning = State Institute for Consumer Research) annually constructs a reference budget, which uses empirical data to show how families spend their income. A standard family consisting of 4 people spends NOK 620 each month on furniture. Almost the entire furniture budget for a year would be needed to buy a single Siesta footstool. It takes almost three years of this family’s furniture budget to buy a single Siesta chair with footstool. In other words, this type of product is beyond the economic capacity of most families, at least if it is to be purchased new.

If we combine this information with the reference budget, showing spending on furniture at NOK 155 per person per month, it means that the municipal population is spending about NOK 1 054 620 a month, or slightly over NOK 12 million a year. This is not a huge amount, and probably explains why there are no furniture stores in Inderøy.

Both the Siesta and the Poäng chairs use laminated wood as the foundation of their design. These chairs are light weight, flexible and springy, and extremely comfortable. I suspect the Poäng chair is less robust than the Siesta chair. Peter Opsvik’s Tripp Trapp children’s chair is yet another example of one using laminated wood. While I would enjoy experimenting with laminated wood in my workshop, it requires more sophisticated equipment than I have at the moment, and time to experiment, at least initially. This is not quite the time, as other higher priority projects require my attention.

Instead, I will find the time in 2020 to make a simple, three seater sofa designed specifically to accommodate people who have short upper legs. Most contemporary sofas have an excessive seating depth, that make it uncomfortable for people with short upper legs to sit. In addition, it will also be designed to fit people with short lower legs. This will be done by making the height at front edge of the cushion lower. The budget for the three-seater sofa is NOK 4 000 (USD 465).

Other adjustments may also be necessary, so my first priority is to make an plywood seating mule, where all seating dimensions can be adjusted to find the most comfortable and appropriate seating for any given person. The budget for the seating mule is NOK 1 000 (USD 116).

An aside: My suspicion is that sofas are not designed for not so much for sitting, as for snoozing, and that this is the reason why the seating depth has increased.

Opinion 1. There is no reason why residents of Macomb, Michigan or Prince Rupert, British Columbia or Charlottenberg, Sweden or anywhere else should have to rely on (large) corporations to provide themselves and their families with furniture.

Opinion 2. There is no reason why underemployed residents anywhere should have to remain underemployed, when such a large percentage of their nearby population are regularly buying furniture, and enriching large corporations, with head offices far away, such as in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania (Ikea’s USA headquarters), Burlington, Ontario (Ikea’s Canada headquarters), Delft, Netherlands (Ikea’s World headquarters).

Ikea is a franchised brand and the owner of the brand is different from its operators, so there are several head officices. The Ikea brand name is owned by the company Inter Ikea Group, they are the franchisor of the Ikea concept and is located in Delft in The Netherlands. The various Ikea stores are operated by different retailers. Ingka Group operates about 330 of the 420 stores. It is located in Leiden in The Netherlands.

Opinion 3. To retain a larger proportion of income in a local community, that would otherwise go to is to large corporations, one can start a furniture workshop with separate facilities for wood and textile work, train people in the skills needed to make furniture for themselves and/or for others, and suitable furniture designs. It should also be a place where furniture can be refurbished.

On Environmentalism

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with activist fashion warrior Katharine Hamnett at a reception at 10 Downing Street, in 1984. Please note the appropriate party shoes worn by Hamnett.

There are many different types of environmentalists. Most people’s involvement in environmentalism does not involve a full range of issues. Instead, there is a focus on just one, or a few. For example, some people are focused on nuclear energy, or policy decisions on bears and other carnivores, or preservation of the arctic fox.

For many, their most distinguishing garment is their hiking boots. Others are more comfortable in a lab-coat. There are even people who prefer tailored suits, to cavort with members of political/ business elites. Fortunately, many times increasingly more people simply wear their ordinary school clothes to protest outside their favourite democratically elected assembly each and every Friday. Personally, I feel most comfortable outfitted in protective clothing suitable for a workshop. One can never be quite sure what type of clothing evokes the best environmentalist image, except to refer to the stunning success of Katharine Hamnett, dressed in a rather long sweat shirt with dress sneakers, at a reception at 10 Downing Street in 1984, which is now 35 years ago.

The reason for all of these different fashion statements, is that people have their own individual environmental fashion style. Personally, I see a need for a flora of environmental organizations, each with their own approach. To help people understand this concept better, I’d like to use religion as an analogy.

There is a large segment of the population in Norway who are active – but more likely passive – members of a Lutheran church, still often – but incorrectly – referred to as the State Church. Many immigrant families are members of the Catholic church, while other immigrant families are members of a wide variety of Muslim organizations. There is also a variety of other religions, associated with other faiths.

Membership in a religion involves a two-fold declaration. First, a potential member must hold a minimal set of core beliefs that are known in advance, and the religion must then be allowed to adjudicate that person to determine if that person meets its membership requirements. It is insufficient for a person to make a declaration that they are Jewish/ Christian/ Muslim/ Baha’i, and for the particular religion to be required to accept that person as a member.

Bridge building between the various religions is not undertaken by having every religious person join an ecumenical organization, and then allow decisions to be made through democratic voting procedures. That would result in a tyranny by the majority. Instead, the different Faiths/ denominations become members, and areas of common interest are developed through consensus. There will, of course, be areas where these organizations agree to disagree.

My experience of Friends of the Earth, is that it – like the Church of Norway – has a large number of passive members, who pay an annual membership fee more out of guilt, than belief. Yet, it is also resembles The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities, hoping to foster mutual respect and dialog between a variety of environmental perspectives, and working towards their equal treatment.

The Norwegian name of Friends of the Earth is not Verdens Venner or even Jordens Venner, as could be expected with a literal translation. Instead, it is Naturvernforbundet, which is officially translated as the cumbersome, The Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature/ Friends of the Earth Norway. For linguists, one could cryptically add: natur = nature; vern = protection; forbund = for-bund = together bound = federation/ association/ society; et = neuter direct article = the, which is put at the beginning of the phrase in English. Note the general absence of norsk (adjective, not usually capitalized) = Norwegian, or Norge (noun, in Bokmål, spelt Noreg in Nynorsk or New Norwegian) = Norway. However, the name sometimes begins with Norges (possessive noun) = Norway’s, if there is a need to distinguish the organization from something in other countries.

Because of the structure of Friends of the Earth, there is no need for the organization to build consensus. Instead, individuals can position themselves to become representatives attending bi-annual national meetings, and voting on policy decisions. In this internet age, this 20th century approach means that a determined few, can decide policy that could be offensive to a more passive majority.

Some of the more radical and active members are able to capture the votes of this passive majority, and to use it to change/ uphold policy decisions. What appears to be consensus, can be more properly be described as a tyranny by the few. This problem can be remedied by replacing a representative democracy, with a direct democracy – one member, one vote. This is attaining using today’s internet technology.

Unfortunately, Friends of the Earth cannot be both dogmatic and ecumenical at the same time. If it opts to take a more ecumenical approach, then instead of communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists and Sikhs (all groups not mentioned previously), there would be place for different views of environmentalism: field naturalists, species preservationists, workshop activists, to name three. Each group would then be allocated an agreed upon number of council members. A (bi-)annual meeting would appoint a board, which again employs a secretariat, and the organization would work towards consensus building.

Despite my role as leader of Friends of the Earth, Inderøy there are days when I contemplate leaving the organization. It is related to one significant flaw with Hamnett’s photo (above), and that is the negativity of her message. One never wins friends by telling people what not to do. Instead, there has to be a positive message that can be periodically reinforced.

Friends of the Earth, Norway, is on the warpath again against imported plant species, including those grown in private gardens. Instead of making positive suggestions to grown some under-rated, beautiful, endemic species, they want to induce guilt in people who chose immigrant species.

I think, in particular of the sand lupine, Lupinus nootkatensis, which thrives on sand and gravel-containing areas, growing to about 50-70 cm high. The species name originates from the Nootka Sound in British Columbia, Canada. It is a place I am intimately familiar with. The species was first listed on the Norwegian Black List 2007 (SE). Yet, the species came to Norway with The Norwegian State Railway (NSB), which used it to tie the slopes along the then (1878) newly constructed Jær Line, south from Stavanger for almost 75 km to Egersund. From there, the plant has spread along the railway and the road network to large parts of the country. Today, it is found in 16 of the country’s 19 traditional counties.

The species started its expansion from Jæren in the Southwest. It was observed in Stjørdal in 1911, which means it has been found in Trøndelag for at least 108 years. In a very short period of time, lupins grow densely, and where not limited by droughts, large, barren areas can be reclaimed quickly because of its nitrogen fixation abilities. It can also extract phosphorus from compounds in poor soils. In spite of these good qualities, it has a tendency to become dominant and overtakes the natural flora. Of course, the reason why lupins were used by the railway, is that there were no native Norwegian species capable of taking on the reclamation duties required: to combat erosion, to speed up land reclamation and to help with reforestation.

The reason for my despair, is that many environmentalists do not seem to understand that the world of 2050 will be vastly different from the world of 1950 or 1850. Unfortunately, many of the species previously thriving in Norway will be totally unsuited for continued life in Norway in thirty years time.

The Crowther Lab at ETH Zürich has examined expected temperatures for 2050, and found that Oslo will experience a 5.6 degree increase in its warmest month, and a 2.2 degree increase annually. This could significantly weaken the viability of many species, including Norway maple, Acer platanoides and strengthen an imigrant, Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, which was introduced to Norway about 1750, and has become naturalized. There are suggestions that the Sycamore is replacing species devastated by disease such as the wych elm, Ulmus glabra, and the European ash, Fraxinus excelsior, which is at its cultivation limit at Trondheim Fjord.

NB Information about Lupinus nootkatensis has been updated. Aparently, it was already placed on the Norwegian black list in 2007.

Disruptive Technology: Micro-batteries

Christine Hallquist, CEO Cross Border Power.

World citizens intent on sustainability should rejoice that Vermont citizens were too dumb to elect Christine Hallquist as their governor. Allegedly, they were more concerned about a tax increase on fossil fuels, than they were about entering the 21st century. This means that Christine can use her insights and other talents to help North Americans transition away from fossil fuels to clean electrical energy solutions.

Soon after she lost the election she wrote a white paper on a North-American solution to climate change, which has a lot to do with sustainable electrical energy. Wind and hydro are part of the equation, but so are batteries. Now, she emerges as CEO of Quebec registered, Cross Border Power. Its strategy is closely aligned with that of Bothell, Washington startup XNRGI.

XNRGI (exponential energy) exuberantly tells us that it “has developed the first-ever porous silicon chip based Lithium Metal rechargeable battery technology. XNRGI’s 15 patented technologies and 12 pending patents, were developed over a 15-year period with more than $80-million of investment from Intel, Motorola, Energizer, the United States Navy, Argonne National Laboratory / US DOE Department of Energy grant for advance manufacturing and Novellus Systems, among others. XNRGI’s technologies enable scalable, high-volume manufacturing at the industry’s lowest cost, by using existing semiconductor wafer manufacturing and contract assembly which have been perfected in Silicon Valley over the past 20 years. This combination of original technologies and proven manufacturing processes provides XNRGI with an unprecedented manufacturing scale and at a low cost with minimal capex.”

XNRGI has developed a new battery technology that prints micro-batteries onto silicon wafers. There are 36 million of these machined onto a 300 mm silicon wafer, which is referred to as being 12-inches in diameter.

These batteries can scale from ultra-small batteries for medical implants to large-scale grid storage and initially promises four times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries for half the price. It claims to completely eliminates the problem of dendrite formation which, if true, would make it a massively disruptive invention. Dendrites are responsible for most fires in lithium based batteries.

Porous silicon gives about 70 times the surface area compared to a traditional lithium battery, with millions of cells in a wafer. The batteries are 100% recyclable. At the end of the product life, the wafers are returned, then cleaned to reclaim the lithium and other materials. Then can then be reused.

XNRGI has worked with partners in an early adapter program to test out 600 working samples in a variety of areas. These include: electric vehicles with 3 – 6 times the energy density currently found, while being 2 – 3 times lighter, and at a considerably lower cost; consumer electronics, providing 1 600 Wh/liter; internet of things applications with micron scale power with low discharge rates.

Grid scale storage for intermittent renewables like Solar/ Wind and backup power is another focus area.The battery banks that Cross Border Power plans to sell to utility companies as soon as next year will be installed in standard computer server racks. One shipping container with 40 racks, will offer 4 megawatts (MW) of battery storage capacity in contrast to a comparaAble set of rack-storage lithium ion batteries which would typically only yield 1 MW.

Electrical grid stabilization, is probably the one area in electrical engineering where battery density is irrelevant. Of course, everyone appreciates a price reduction, and this means that a 4 MW 40 foot container will cost twice the price of a 1 MW unit.

A 1 MW 40 foot container-based energy storage system typically includes two 500-kW power conditioning systems (PCSs) in parallel, lithium-ion battery sets with capacity equivalent to 450 kWh, a controller, a data logger, air conditioning, and an automatic fire extinguisher. When this is scaled to 4 MW, some of the details remain unknown, including the number and size of the PCSs. The total capacity should increase to 1.8 MWh.

What is missing from any documentation I have found, is any mention of these batteries in aviation. Because of its importance, this will be the subject of an upcoming weblog post.


The difficulty with hype, is knowing what technology has a basis in fact, and what is simply wishful thinking. Much hype is related to batteries specifically developed for electric vehicles. Despite chemical engineering studies, including physical chemistry, I lack sufficient insight to judge the veracity of any of these claims. One needs to be a specialist, with detailed knowedge and experience.

The first storage device that raised issues was one under development by EEStor of Cedar Park, Texas. It claimed to have developed a solid state polymer capacitor for electricity storage, that “stores more energy than lithium-ion batteries at a lower cost than lead-acid batteries.” Despite patents, many experts expressed skepticism.

The rise and fall of Envia is another example. This battery startup secured a contract with GM to supply its cathodes, made from nickel, manganese, and cobalt, to power GM’s Volt. Everything looked great until Envia’s cathodes failed to perform as claimed. Details about this can be found in an article by Steve LeVine in Quartz. Later, LeVine wrote The Powerhouse (2015), which more generally discusses the geopolitics of advanced batteries.

Phinergy, as Israeli company, has promoted an aluminum air battery, where one electrode is an aluminum plate, and the other is an oxygen and a water electrolyte. When the oxygen interacts with the plate, it produces energy. The good news is that these batteries could have 40 times the capacity of lithium ion batteries. The bad news is that the aluminum degrades over time. Current only flows one way, from the anode to the cathode, which prevents them from being recharged. This means that the batteries have to be swapped out and recycled after running down.

Fisker Inc. claims it is on the verge of a solid-state battery breakthrough that will give EVs extended range and a relatively short charging period. In contrast to conventional lithium-ion batteries that offer significant resistance when charging or discharging, which creates heat. Solid-state batteries have low resistance, so they don’t overheat, which allows for fast recharging. But the negative side is their limited surface area means they have a low electrode-current density, which limits power. Existing solid-state batteries can’t generate enough power, work well in low temperatures, or be manufactured at scale.

Fisker’s solution is to create a 3D solid-state battery, they call a bolt battery, that is thicker, and with 25 times the surface that a thin-film battery. This allows it to produce sufficient power to move a vehicle. It claims to produce 2.5 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries can, at a third of the cost. Despite the hype, Fisher will not be providing solid state batteries on its EMotion luxury sport vehicle, claimed to be available from mid-2020. Rather, it will come with proprietary battery modules from LG Chem.


This is not the first time I have announced disruptive energy technology. I have been a keen advocate of Desertec solar-thermal power, where I had hoped that electricity generated in North Africa could be used to power Europe (as well as North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere) with copious quantities of sustainable energy. Bi-products included desalinated potable water (not alw)ays appreciated as a benefit, opportunities for growing large quantities of food, and stabilizing soils to prevent climate deterioration. A White Book has been written on it. It was, and still is my hope, that the introduction of this system would result in more sustainable, and democratic societies, in North Africa, without reliance on fossil fuels.

Readers eager to find weblog posts on Desertec will be disappointed. During the period when I was most interested in this technology (2004 – 2008) I did not have a weblog. Instead, material was presented in the form of lectures and activities in science class, typically for grade 11 students.

Empty Planet

This post looks at the basic premise of Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson’s Empty Planet (2019), that the human population, now at 7.5 billion, will peak at 9 billion, before declining rapidly, later in the 21st century. The question addressed is how different nations/ regions will cope with a collapsing population.

All advanced and many emerging market economies, to use International Monetary Fund slang, have fertility levels below replacement, considered to be 2.1 offspring per woman. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Norway in 2018 was 1.56, the lowest on record. In her New Year’s address in 2019, the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, encouraged Norwegian women to have more children. The PM has had 2.0 children, while the two other women party leaders in her government have not had any children. Being generous, these three have a combined TFR of 0.7.

Is Canada the world’s first post-national country? Despite my Canadian heritage as well as Bricker and Ibbitson’s suggestion that this is the case, I would have to answer, not yet. Yes, Canada features individualism, combined with urbanism, low TFR and high immigration. Twenty percent of the population are immigrants. That is higher than any other country, including the United States of America. Yes, this contrasts with the stereotypical image of Canada as the vast, unpopulated, ice-encrusted North. But these characteristics are not sufficient to make a country post-national.

For a country to be post-national, it has to be multi-cultural. This means that it cannot display preferences for one culture to the detriment of another. Canada does this, by continuing to have a British monarch of German heritage, as head of state. The fact that it uses a first-past-the-post electoral system also puts limits on representation in parliament. Amazingly, the Liberal Party currently in government as of this writing in 2019, first promised a more democratic voting system, then reneged on this promise. Currently, cultural minorities have to find their place within a three party system. Rather than having a group of people from an assortment of political persuasions representing citizens over a larger area, one person from a specific political party represents everyone in the riding, including those who did not vote for that person.

Despite the book’s Canadian chauvinism, it offers important insights. In urban societies, women become better educated, have better knowledge about contraception, this results in fewer children and leads women to better jobs, which makes women more financially autonomous. Ties to family, clan and religion deteriorate. The ties that are left are cultural.

Immigrants to Canada generally teach their children their original language, so that these children can continue to be entrenched in two cultures – Canada and something else. My daughter, who took her secondary education in Canada, had Norwegian as her second language. My old elementary school, named after gold prospector, journalist, some time New Westminster resident and former British Columbia Premier John Robson, has been demolished. It has been replaced with Ecole Qayqayt Early Education Centre. It is named after the Qayqayt First Nation, who originally lived in New Westminster, and offers French immersion classes.

While most of the world is at or below replacement fertility, 2.1 children per woman, the one major exception is Africa. The 2019 African Economic Outlook reports economic prospects and projections for Africa and for each of its 54 countries. It offers short and medium term forecasts for the main socio-economic factors, noting challenges and progress.

The report states, “Africa’s economic growth continues to strengthen, reaching an estimated 3.5 percent in 2018, about the same as in 2017 and up 1.4 percentage points from the 2.1 percent in 2016.”

But also cautions, “Africa’s labor force is projected to be nearly 40 percent larger by 2030. If current trends continue, only half of new labor force entrants will find employment, and most of the jobs will be in the informal sector. This implies that close to 100 million young people could be without jobs.” African fertility has halved to 4 since 1975 due to better female education and empowerment. However, this is still about twice replacement levels.

While declining population is a benefit, in terms of relieving pressure on the environment, it will also swing economic power from capital to labour, reducing inequality.

There are four approaches that can be taken to the world population challenge. Approaches 1 and 2 both accept a perpetual decrease in population. Approach 1 is to continue relying on humans as before.

Approach 2 is to replace workers with robots. Japan is the poster child for working with this. There are many areas of the economy where robots can be used, especially in the transport sector and manufacturing. Some progress can undoubtedly also be made in terms of construction.

With these first two approaches, there will come a point when having a nation-state will become impractical. There will be so few people living in them, that land could be freed for other groups to use.

The third and fourth approaches allow increased immigration. There are a number of situations that have to be understood, when dealing with immigrants. One term bandied about is integration. Quite often it is understood to be something that someone else has to do. Many people in the host population confuse integration with assimilation, and expect immigrants to assimilate themselves into the wider society. That task is, of course, impossible. So, Approach 3, is a situation in which the host society/ culture envisions itself as superior to anything/ everything on offer from migrants. It also expects them to give up social and cultural values, for something these immigrants may not quite understand.

Approach 4, the last approach here, is to accept that society will ultimately become multicultural. This is the official Canadian approach. Apart from a disdain for radicalism, Canada is willing to accept large numbers of well educated and young immigrants, capable of engaging with other Canadians of divergent backgrounds. At the same time these immigrants are allowed, even encouraged, to preserve their original culture, so they can function as a link between the two societies. Immigrant children to Canada are taught that they have two feet, one planted in Canada, the second in the culture they come from. Both are equal, and both are relevant.

Society changes

If anyone were to enter a time machine, and go fifty years back in time, they would discover a completely different world. With respect to my own situation, it would be a world filled with cheap gasoline, smokers, mini-skirts, vinyl records, beef steaks and corporal punishment. Since then, that culture has become unrecognizable. Like everyone else born before the new millennium, I didn’t grow up with cell phones, and had to learn how to use them – as an adult. Dress codes prevented women from wearing trousers at school and at work. In fact, some women had to quit work if they married. I was strapped for turning around in my desk at school.

Corporal punishment is illegal in Norway today, but listening to Norwegians my age, it seems to have been quite common fifty or sixty years ago. Transitions to a new culture can be difficult and while I don’t approve of people hitting their children, I don’t think jail sentences are the correct response either, in many cases. Suspended sentences are a cost-effective way of expediting behavioural change, both for the individual and society.

Yet, prophecy is a tricky proposition. With hindsight, it is easy to see that pizzas are more than a passing fad. The same cannot be said of fondues.

This weblog post was originally written 2019-03-06, but not published until 2019-07-08. It continues a discussion begun in Workshop Activism (published 2018-02-03), and continued in Lotta Hitschmanova (published 2019-02-14).

The Charm of PLA

Biodegradable PLA cups in use at Chubby’s Tacos in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo: 2008-07-14, Ildar Sagdejev)

At Inderøy Techno-workshop, the standard plastic used on our 6 x 3D-printers is Polylactic Acid = PLA. The weblog post explains why.

The name Polylactic Acid is actually a misnomer. It does not comply with IUPAC (The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) standard nomenclature (naming standards for chemicals), and is potentially ambiguous/ confusing: PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but a polyester.

What distinguishes PLA from other thermoplastics/ -polymers is that it is made from plant-based renewable feedstocks. PLA’s list of raw materials include cassava, corn/ maise, sugar beet, sugarcane, potatoes and similar products. What is interesting, from an Inderøy perspective, is that the municipality has a potato processing plant that was established in 1844.

Despite its natural origins, PLA offers properties similar to other thermoplastics used industrially. One of the reasons for selecting PLA as a standard product, is that the workshop wants participants to reflect over their choice of materials, and to choose those that are least damaging to the environment and living things, including themselves and other human beans, as some people call them. PLA has less negative impact than most other plastics, so people can use it with a good conscience. If workshop participants want to switch to a different plastic, they will have to defend their choice!

There are several methods used to manufacture PLA plastic. Those interested in the fine details of PLA engineering should consult Lee Tin Sin, A. R. Rahmat, W. A. W. A. Rahman, Polylactic Acid: PLA Biopolymer Technology and Applications, (2012) ISBN: 9781437744590

PLA is a thermoplastic, which means it can be melted and reshaped without significant degradation of its mechanical properties. Thus, it is easy to recycle.

PLA is biodegradable. Microorganisms transform it into natural components, such as water and carbon dioxide. The speed of the transformation is strongly dependent on temperature and humidity. At the Inderøy Techno-workshop, we will ensure that PLA is properly recycled. There is a special bin, clearly marked with PLA – and not with resin code 7 used to identify “other” plastics. The plastic recycling resin codes 1 to 6 are used for petroleum based plastics.

One of the projects this writer wants to prioritize in 2020 is to work with Innherred Renovation, the local waste recycling company, to examine the feasibility of processing PLA locally to avoid excessive transportation costs, and to give the workshop a source of raw material to make coils of PLA filament – yet another project, scheduled for 2021. Disposal (as distinct from recycling) involves heating PLA to about 60°C and exposing it to special microbes, that will digest and decompose it within three months. If these conditions are not met, PLA can take between 100 and 1 000 years to decompose.

Because PLA is derived from renewable resources, and is not petroleum-based, it offers many positive characteristics for manufacturers. It is almost carbon neutral. The raw material it is made (plants) from absorbs carbon. When oxygenated or heated, it does not release toxic fumes. Yet there is a down side. With the world’s population raising, at least temporarily until towards the end of this century, there are concerns about using agricultural land for the production of non-food crops, such as bioplastics. In addition, raw materials for PLA typically use transgenic plants, plants that have genes inserted into them that are derived from another species.

Other challenges include agriculture based on monocultures; a lack of long-term testing; mixing/ contaminating PLA with petroleum based plastics (PLA plastic is brittle unless it is mixed with some petroleum based polymers.); decomposition of food storage PLA plastics during production, packaging, transportation, selling and consumption phases. There are also strength and crystallinity deficiencies.

PLA plastic is recognized as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Its non-toxicity allows it to be used safely in all food packaging and many medical applications including implants. These can be biodegraded in the body over time, if PLA is in its solid form. There are some ventilation issues. Fumes emitted by PLA are claimed to be harmless, however, there are suggestions that the release of nanoparticles can potentially pose a health threat. At Inderøy Techno-workshop, extractors will be fitted to our 3D-printers, with both HEPA and active charcoal filters.

Physical characterics of PLA that are important to users are its mechanical, rheological (flow) and thermal (heat) properties. The database is a convenient site to get basic information abouta number of materials. Here are the results for PLA.

PLA has good mechanical properties, that are often better than many petroleum based plastics such as polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyurethane (PU). It’s Young’s modulus, ability to tolerate elongation under tension or compression, is ~3.5 GPa, in contrast to 0.1 GPa for rubber and 200 GPa for steel. Its tensile yield strength, the force needed to pull something, is ~50 MPa. Its flexural strength, the stress needed to start plastic deformation, is ~80 MPa, All of these are at the low end compared to other thermal plastics.

Rheology is the study of materials with both solid and fluid characteristics. PLA is a pseudoplastic, non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian means that its viscosity (resistance to flow) changes depending on the stress that it is subjected to. PLA is a shear-thinning material, which means that the viscosity decreases with applied stress.

PLA’s thermal properties depend on its molecular weight. It is classified as a semi-crystalline polymer, with a glass transition temperature at ~55°C and melting temperature at ~180°C. These are low compared to other thermoplastics such as ABS. PLA can burn. This means that heat/ and smoke detectors are necessary, if 3D-printers are to be used without people present.

Processing PLA requires humidity and temperature control to avoid unnecessary degradation.

Some sources recommend storing PLA in its original package at ambient temperatures but drying it before use, because of its hydroscopic tendencies.

The main usage of PLA at the techno-workshop will be 3D printing with filament. In addition, PLA can be extruded. While heat is needed to allow PLA to flow under pressure, more specific processes are needed to pump, mix and pressurize PLA. Related to this is injection molding, for small-series production. The main challenge is making inexpensive molds. Injection molding for PLA production is limited, because of its slow crystallization rate, compared to other thermoplastics.

Other processes include injection stretch blow molding, cast film and sheet and thermoforming.

Bioplastics such as PLA have a large economic potential, allowing job creation opportunities, especially in rural areas, such as Inderøy. There are estimates that the European bioplastics industry will provide 300 000 skilled jobs by 2030, up from an estimated 30 000 in 2020. Thus one of the key tasks of the Techno-workshop is to encourage young people to develop business ideas based on the use of PLA.

PLA is biocompatible, it can be used in the human body with minimum risk of inflammation and infection. It has been used to produce biomedical products for drug delivery systems and bone fixation, including plates, screws, surgical structures and meshes. These can dissolve inside the body show over a period of between three months and two years. that it posses great promise in solving problems such as tissue loss and organ failure

There are efforts in the textile industry to replace non-renewable polyester textiles with PLA. Advantages include breathability, lower weight, and recyclability.

The cosmetics industry facing a consumer backlash for using petroleum based plastic products, has sought more sustainable solutions using PLA.

While there were hopes that PLA could be used for structural applications in the construction industry, the same characteristics that made it useful in biomedical applications, detracted from its use as foam for insulation, fiber for carpets and more generally in furnishings.