Book Review: The World In A Grain

Cover page The World In A Grain by Vince Beiser.

Last Saturday, a special Dutch season started: Sinterklaas1. He traditionally arrives in a steam ship in some camera pleasing port and starts his tour through the country. Eventually he commemorates his name day (December 6th) by leaving presents for all children on the eve before. Usually this is celebrated with children and/or parents giving each other presents in elaborate packaging and clumsy rhymes. So, this might be a good occasion to recommend a book for your wish list.

Somewhere I found a copy of ‘The World in a Grain’ by Vince Beiser2. Actually, it was the subtitle, ‘The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization’ that caught my attention. As you may have noticed, I am very interested in sand. And, it is good, to occasionally take a step back and contemplate how our product contributes to civilisation and the world as we know it.

Photo of American-Canadian journalist Vince Beiser (Credit: Wikipedia).

Vince Beiser3 is an American-Canadian journalist and the book is easy to read. The chapters are arranged to the subject where sand is coming from and its contribution to society. Beginning with the origin of sand, the erosion of rock, and the locations where it ends up and can be extracted. The most basic application of sand is construction sand to create infrastructure: reclaimed land, ballast material for roads and railways, general landscaping etc. Than, the applications become more refined: concrete, asphalt, fracking, foundries, glass making, eventually all the way to high end products as computer chips and smart phones. Each application requiring its own type of sand.

Soil sample exhibit at the Damen Dredging Experience.

Proceeding through the book, you will be surprised about how dependent we’ve become on such a small unit of our universe. And that is exactly where Beiser is alarming us about. Not only that at some point in the future, sand will become a scarce commodity, it already is. As with all scarce materials, they become precious and attract activity that is not always benefitting all stakeholders. This usually involves violence and crime. And Beiser has been exploring this dark side of the trade for his book.

His experience as criminal-justice journalist has helped him to uncover social injustice, where some greedy individuals were profiting from resources that ought to serve the wellbeing of all mankind. Beautiful beaches that have been scooped away. Rivers that changed their course and deprived communities from irrigation. Pastoral landscape, that was torn up and left behind devastated. He visited some sites and spoke to victims and activists. At some occasions, he was even threatened himself.

Progressing through the book, I even felt ashamed that I was taking part in an industry that allegedly rapes nature and deprives future generations of their rightful heritage. He reported severe cases from undeveloped countries, but even well-known names in our dredging industry have been mentioned. According to Beiser, there is no direct solution, as the demand is still on the rise, but I think there is: cooperation in governance. Share with others the experience on sand mining, the market possibilities and communicate with all stakeholders involved. Personally, I am involved in CEDA4, but there are many more platforms: IADC, EuDA, EMSAGG, PIANC etc. And as always: think about what you are doing and what does it leave future generations with.

OK, one last bonus link for those who don’t like reading a whole book. I think the producers of the Dutch children’s TV show ‘Buitendienst’5, last Friday, have been reading this book also.

Het grote zandmysterie (Credit: De Buitendienst).

References

  1. Sinterklaas, Wikipedia
  2. The World in a Grain, Amazon
  3. Vince Beiser, Wikipedia
  4. Dredging Management Commission, CEDA
  5. Het grote zandmysterie, NPO Zapp

See also

Graduation Gijs Ter Meulen: Drag Analysis And Model For Forces And Production

Gijs proudly presenting his MSc. certificate.

We have another bright new MSc. engineer in dredging technology1: Gijs ter Meulen. Tuesday, he presented and defended his thesis on the forces and production of a trailing suction head. For this thesis project he was working at our research and development department at Damen Dredging Equipment2.

Trailing suction hopper dredges have become the tool of the trade for modern dredging contractors. They are versatile, flexible and able to transport sand over great distances. They load their cargo in their holds, by sucking up the sediment from the sea bottom with a big trailing suction head. This head looks like an out of size vacuum cleaner head.

Typical drag head on a railing suction hopper dredge.

Usually, it is very difficult to comprehend what is going on in and around the drag head. There is some laboratory research done, but not all results are freely available. Other knowledge is solely based on the experience of well-seasoned dredge masters. I do have respect for the experience of dredge masters, but their stories are hardly usable for an academic model description. So, Gijs took on the challenge to piece together a model, that satisfies our curiosity and fits with the experiences.

Concise development of the drag head model by Gijs ter Meulen.

For this project, he identified several steps, which we briefly touch upon here:

  1. The processes and forces around the drag head3 were all investigated on their cause and effect.
  2. A model was set up, where each process and their interaction with the others were identified.
  3. One main process in the drag head is the jetting production. A powerful jet of water is injected into the soil and this erodes part of the sediment under the drag head4.
  4. Another main process is the cutting production5. What is not eroded away by the jets, is removed by the teeth at the back of the visor.
  5. As the contribution of the processes to the forces and the production is known, the total performance can be calculated.

Along the way, this gave us very useful insight in the capabilities of the drag head and the trailing system, all the way to the requirements for the propulsion. Now, we will be able to continue to improve our drag heads even further. Any other students who would like to participate in that project are welcome to contact us5.

Gijs takes a new step in his career path. He is going to work for a well esteemed customer of us, so we will see him around in the dredging industry. Thanks Gijs, bon voyage!

Gijs, good luck with your future career in dredging.

References

  1. MSc Offshore & Dredging Engineering, TU Delft
  2. Innovation, Damen Dredging Equipment
  3. Designing Dredging Equipment [OE4671], Vlasblom
  4. Sand erosion with a traversing circular jet, Robert Weegenaar
  5. The Cutting of Sand, Dredging Engineering
  6. Internships, Damen Dredging Equipment

See also

CEDA DMC Presentation On Dredging Innovations In Gdansk

Group photo of delegates attending the combined meeting of CEDA CEC & DMC and MIG on dredging in Baltic Ports. (Credit: CEDA)

Because of other activities these last weeks, my promised post about the DMC presentation had some delay. On October 10th, there was a symposium together with the Marine Institute Gdansk and the CEDA Environmental Commission and the CEDA Dredging Management Commission supported by Gdansk Science and Technology Park and the Baltic Ports Organisation1. The topic of the symposium was ‘Advances in Dredging Technology. My contribution was a presentation as DMC member2 on ‘Dredging technology developments versus requirements’.

Presenting the innovations in dredging technology. (Credit: CEDA)

Although dredging sounds like an old rusty trade, in fact, it is in constant movement and highly innovative when experienced from the inside. At the Dredging Management Commission, we have a separate focus group, that investigates the technological solutions that enable the stakeholders to efficiently manage a dredging project. A lot of ‘booby traps’ in the ‘Checklist For Successful Dredging Management’3 can be handled by applying the right technology. If there are issues with turbidity, e.g. one can apply a component as the ‘Plumigator®’4 attachment for the overflow in a trailing suction hopper dredge to comply with turbidity clauses in the contract. If the project has very narrow allowances for positioning, modern survey and control systems allow surgical precision dredging, to reduce overdredging and corresponding penalties.

All in all, we’ve identified more than 70 innovation over the last ten years, that have found a foothold in the dredging industry. These have been categorised to the field of technology: Components, Equipment, Industries, Initiatives, Methodology, Processes, Systems, Tools. Other descriptions that we’ve attributed to these innovations were their contribution in solving certain problems in dredging management, as they are found in the checklist. And how much effort they require and how much benefit they would yield. These last items are very subjective and still open for debate. More to follow later. But, at least the procedure can be laid out to recommend the best options for tackling certain problems in the ‘checklist.

Fields of technology and contributions to improvements in dredging management. (Credit: CEDA)

We had a good discussion at the symposium about this topic and from the other focus groups (contract management, checklist, etc.). There were also cross-over opportunities with the CEDA Environmental Commission. At least, there are enough leads, that can be used for the next CEDA Dredging Days in Rotterdam.

As an illustration of the long way we’ve came in the dredging industry, the conference room in the control centre of the Port of Gdansk5, was decorated with interesting pictures from the construction of the port.

Historic pictures of dredging works at the construction of the Port of Gdansk.

References

  1. CEDA-MIG Joint Symposium on Advances in Dredging Technology 2018 Supported by GSTP and BPO, MIG
  2. Dredging Management Commission, CEDA
  3. New CEDA paper encourages all parties to dredging contracts to start thinking and keep thinking, CEDA
  4. Plumigator, IHC
  5. Port of Gdansk

See also