Reflection Blog

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      This summer, instead of taking traditional summer courses in Boston, I made the decision to study alternative energy and Brazilian culture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I attended class at Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing, or ESPM, one of the best universities in the State of Sao Paolo. But most of the learning took place outside of the classroom; at the various energy sites, samba class, capoeira class, or just simply wandering about on our own.

            When we first arrived in Brazil, we had a long bus ride to from the airport to the hotel where we had stayed for orientation. Many of us chose to sleep on the bus, but I had slept enough on the plane, and couldn’t seem to fall asleep. So I threw on my headphones and looked through the glass, examining the alien territory on the other side. I did not know what to expect of Brazil upon arrival. I saw plenty of buildings, some countryside, a lot of old cars, plenty of commercial trucks, homeless people, along with the roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. It looked like a run down America, perhaps the America of the 70’s and 80’s with all the Volkswagen Beetles and camper vans roaming the streets like ants at a picnic. This was my first impression of Brazil.

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I had not really done any research on Sao Paulo before coming, but I knew I wanted to study alternative energy and I really wanted to take the chance to go to South America, and Brazil was my primary target country. A month ago, the only thing I could tell you about Sao Paolo is where you could find it on a map, though I failed to examine the map’s scale. Assuming its position on the map, I believed Sao Paulo was on the beach, kind of like a Miami, where you could sit on the 42nd story of a building and work your eight-hour shift and then take the elevator down, walk a couple blocks, take off your shoes and enjoy a beer on the beach. For at least a month before arriving, I had been checking Sao Paulo’s weather every day, and it had never dropped below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and occasionally hit up to 85 degrees. Based on what they advertise in America, I expected Brazilian models to be lining the sidewalks and beaches.

            So one of the first things I learned is not to believe anything until you have experienced it first hand. The closest beach was over an hour away, so any chance of heading to the beach for a swim after class was abolished. But even if it were closer, I also learned that the temperatures in June don’t carry over to July. During our stay, though we had some days in the 80’s, the temperatures did hit the 40’s and the ‘Realfeel’ struck the 30’s. We were unaware that we would be staying in an open roofed hostel, so none of us really packed actual winter clothes. Thus, we learned to boil water for the mere use of warming our hands, and to wear the blankets we sleep under as cloaks. The beaches were practically empty (maybe because it was the dead of winter), and as for the Brazilian models I anticipated, Arturo, a new Venezuelan crony of mine, spotted the only one seen. He saw Alessandra Ambrosio at the airport, leaving the country, as we departed for the United States. So we decided that the models were not fit for the emerging energy market and are all leaving to seek acting and modeling opportunities abroad.

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            Meanwhile, we learned that the alternative energy market in Brazil is booming. The country as a whole is diving headfirst into the research and implementation of alternative energy technology, where the head is none other than the state of Sao Paolo. According to the sub secretary of Renewable Energy of Sao Paulo, Dr. Milton Flavio Marques Laughtenschlager, Sao Paulo currently attains 55 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources, and targets to reach 70 percent in the next seven years. This would be an incredible feat, as the rest of Brazil, even as one of the premier nations in alternative energy usage, only gets 45 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources. These sources include the following sources; wind, solar, hydroelectric, landfill gas, and nuclear, among others.

            Although we were unfortunately unable to visit a nuclear power plant, we did get to see some of the other technologies. On Tuesday, July 13, we visited Companhia Paulista de Forca e Luz, or CPFL, a solar power plant in Campinas. We were informed on how a solar company is set up, and how the individual panels function. Prior to visiting the site, we learned about photovoltaics and how the energy is converted from simple photons to energy we can use, but it was nice to see the simplicity of the panels in person. The simple panels, however, were not the cool part; CPFL also had ‘smartpanels,’ which were programmed to reconfigure their orientation relative to the sun’s position at various intervals throughout the day. But the technology does not stop there. At CPFL, there is an entire department dedicated to research. We observed many other uses for solar technologies at the Enersolar Conference, but it will be interesting to see what developments will emerge from solar energy research in the future.

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A couple days later, we went to Henry Borden, which is a hydroelectric plant. We were given a tour and a brief rundown of how it works and it’s history. Although hydropower was originally utilized for simpler purposes, such as grinding flour, we learned that the technology has not changed much since it’s initial use for harvesting electrical power, over a hundred years ago. A running water supply still causes the turbines to spin, which propel an electric generator, which feeds power to the desired source. The parts are very durable and do not need maintenance or replacement, like a lot of other renewable energy technologies. And as long as the water supply does not dry up, hydroelectric plants have a practically eternal lifespan, unlike a landfill site, which we also visited.

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On a cold winter day in mid July, we visited the Sao Joao Landfill. This was putrid plot of land where trash was brought to use its methane emissions for energy production. I learned that a landfill cannot exactly be put into immediate use, as this particular landfill collected trash for two years before they could start generating electricity and turn a profit, which means it is a huge investment. However, a landfill is a very practical method for energy generation as it gives us a place and use for all the garbage we accumulate.

Before coming to Brazil, I was oblivious as to what exactly flex fuel was. I had heard of it and seen it’s label on a few cars in the United States (especially on some of the newer Ford models) but I had no idea as to what it was or what it did; I simply assumed it was a different type of fuel altogether. However, from that first ride in Brazil from the airport to the hotel, I instantly noticed that ‘flex fuel’ was a uniform stamp on practically every car, and my observation was not warped, as a few days later, in class, we were told that 90 percent of vehicles in Brazil have the option to run on flex fuel. And it was then that I learned what a flex fuel vehicle was: a vehicle that can accept and effectively use two or more different types of fuel sources in the same tank (as opposed to bi fuel vehicles which also accept two different fuel sources but hold them in separate tanks and do not use them simultaneously). After learning a bit about them, we went to BOSCH to see an actual company affiliated with the flex fuel industry. At BOSCH, we were given a tour of the grounds, in which we saw a lot of the vehicles which the company works with and a lot of the developmental features of the BOSCH labs. In order to test cars that were being made for other parts of the world, BOSCH had specialized rooms to simulate temperatures that are otherwise unattainable in Brazil. Another interesting feature in their testing department is the stationary test drive. The wheels of the car are put on a treadmill-like appliance, and a monitor -used to create virtual driving courses for the driver. The monitor is hooked up to the gas, break, and clutch pedals, the steering wheel, and the gas tank, to test cars without having to drive them out to the actual testing courses. This method saves money and time, while also permitting a limitless amount of virtual courses to test, and to allow them to simultaneously test the courses in different temperatures to see how fuel cost is affected. What I found most interesting, however, was that the Ford Model T, the first affordable car made for commercial sale was actually a flex fuel vehicle, but because of the prohibition movement in the 1920’s ethanol was eliminated as a viable fuel, so the models being manufactured eliminated the ethanol option, until the 1970’s when the international oil crisis struck, and people opened their eyes to finally see how dependent they are on a depleting non-renewable source: oil. Learning about potential sources as proxies for oil only accounted for half of the trip.

The other half of the trip was cultural immersion. We saw a Sao Paulo verse Santos soccer game, which would have been way more tense if Neymar was still playing for Santos, but it was still fun nonetheless. In addition to watching live Brazilian futbol, we were also taught about the history of the sport, its origins, and how it came to flourish in Brazil. Only after seeing a match and learning the history, were we able to go to the futbol museum and literally walk through a time capsule of Brazilian soccer.

After soccer, it seems that the second national sport in Brazil may actually be dance. Although I do not really dance on the regular, I did put forth an effort to learn samba and capoeira while in Brazil, and I may not be the next star in the sky in either one, but I enjoyed it, and it was entertaining to watch others struggle as well. At the capoeira place however, I was taught to play the birimbau, an arched string instrument, traditionally tensed with a rock or metal coin, and struck with a baton. It took me a while, but I learned how to play a couple basic tunes. 

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End of July

Earlier this week, we met with the Sub secretary of Renewable Energy in Sao Paulo and visited a landfill, both of which were eventful and educational. Dr. Milton Flavio Marques Laughtenschlager spoke to us of numerous renewable energy movements that the state of Sao Paulo, including the effort to make sure that 69 percent of Sao Paulo’s energy will be generated from renewable sources, and carbon emissions will be reduced by 20 percent, by the year 2020. Currently, 55 percent of Sao Paulo’s energy comes from renewable energy sources, in comparison to 45 percent for the rest of Brazil. In this manner, Sao Paulo will continue to lead the remainder of the country in environmental conservation and alternative energy, living up to its epithet, “the locomotive of Brazil.” To reach this feat, Dr. Laughtenschlager said that Sao Paulo will have to bank on biofuels, solar, and wind power. We have already been well informed that Brazil is a global giant in the field of ethanol production from sugar cane, which subsequently fuels the flex fuel industry. Meanwhile, we have also been studying the rise of the wind and solar industries in Brazil and the investments being put in their efficiency research. The one aspect I was disappointed with the Sub secretary’s lack of faith in the hydroelectric industry. He said that Sao Paulo has reached its capacity for hydroelectric power, despite the fact that Brazil is undertaking one of the world’s largest public works projects, one that will cost more than $150 billion dollars, in the Jirau Dam which is expected to supply a good amount of power to Sao Paulo. Nevertheless, he seems very optimistic about the future of Sao Paulo’s alternative energy programs.

             Then on Thursday, we visited the Sao Joao Landfill, where it was cold and smelly. We attended a lecture and walked around the site learning about how it is set up and about how it works. The trash is processed and layered in the landfill and there is a synthetic lining on the base that prevents many of the toxins from going into the ground and destroying the underground biodiversity and vegetation. Surprisingly, it took 2 years of trash accumulation before it could be used for energy accumulation. And we also learned that the company actually loses money on cold days, such as the day we went, because they need more power to run the plant than they generate. Thus, it would be inefficient for it to be implemented in countries with a colder climate, such as the United States, but it seems to work well in warmer climates as in Brazil. 

Market (22-07-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On July 22nd, we went to the mercado, where we were encouraged to try various fruits and food. Using the phrase, “posso provar esse,” and my pointer finger, here are some of the things i was able to try:

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1. The above fruit is a granadilha. Classified as Passiflora ligularis, in the United States, we call it passionfruit.

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2. Many Americans eat cashews on a regular basis, whether at a bar, at home, or in various recipes, however, most are unaware as to where the cashew comes from: the caju (or cashew) fruit, above. The name comes from the Tupi word, acaju, meaning a self-producing nut.

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3. Pitaya, known to Americans as ‘dragonfruit,’ is actually a fruit derived from a cactus of the genus hylocereus, which in Greek, translates to horns of the sun.

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4. Rambutao in Portuguese, or rambutan in english, comes from the Malayan word for hairy, refering to the hair-like wavy spikes that encase the fruit itself.

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5. I have eaten many figs in my time but most have been green. The one pictured above is the figo roxo, or the red fig. It may be a different color, though the two color variations do not seem to differ much in taste.

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6. The atemoya is actually a hybrid fruit, made by crossing the sugar apple and a cherimoya.

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7. This is an inhame, native to Costa Rica. There is no name for it in english and I did not get to sample it as the guy shrugged of my attempt to try it. 

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8. The sign was misleading, as it was probably misplaced, but the labelled product is most definately ginger, or gengibre, in Portuguese.

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9.  So after walking around for a while, we got kind of hungry, and Gustavo’s recommendation was to get a mortadella sandwich, so we did. Mortadella is an Italian meat processed with various kinds of berries, and it is delicious.

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10. But the mortadella wasn’t enough. I saw the slabs of meat hanging on hooks, and decided I had to get one. So I got 4kg, took it to the hostel, started up the grill and threw it right on. 

 

EnerSolar Conference (17-07-13)

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On Wednesday, July 17th, we attended the EnerSolar conference in Sao Paulo, in which many solar energy companies showcased their respective technologies. There were many front solar powered air conditioning units to anti-theft devices specifically designed to protect solar panels and their parts. We were told to go around and talk to the different companies in making an effort to recognize 25 different solar technologies. One important thing we learned is marketing strategy: people were much more attracted to companies that provided their guests with an incentive for visiting, mostly consisting of food and drink. We decided that the high number of companies present at the conference meant a high success rate for solar power in Brazil. If such a conference was in an American cosmopolitan city, such as New York, I feel that it would attract a large amount of investors and help kick start solar technology in the United States. This would benefit society, the economy, and the environment, as investors would be able to fund small business men who would start companies that use solar power, which would eliminate the carbon footprint we are leaving behind, while allowing both parties to make money.

Henry Borden Hydroelectric (18-07-13)

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On Thursday, July 18th, we visited the Henry Borden Hydroelectric plant, which was created in 1926. This system uses height to create gravitational potential energy in order to turn its turbines and create a huge amount of power for its customers. The water also goes in a path that simulates its natural flow. Before coming to the plant, I knew very little about how hydroelectric plants work. During my visit, I was able to see all the parts that contribute to the spinning of the turbines and the archaic technology behind it, as well as the macroscopic view of where the water’s geographic allocation. Hydroelectric power also seems to be catching in Brazil, as the rivers and natural water flow systems are easily adaptable to accommodate the needs of the plants, and have the potential to generate enormous amount of power. Again, this technology is also available in the United States, but is not as widespread as it is in Brazil. If, however, we could increase the quantity of hydroelectric plants in the United States and hook it up to a grid of a national power supplier, I believe that it would work well, as we have plenty of rivers across the continental United States, that could be used if we create some elevation. Of course, natural conservation laws in the United States would prohibit the use of many of these rivers for such usage, or would deny any permit to create a man-made incline to increase the gravitational potential for a hydroelectric source. However, if one ignores the potential for an ecological disaster, there is great profit to be made. The plant harvests energy from a natural input, and requires no maintenance because of the impressive durability of the parts.  

BOSCH CO (16-07-13)

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Following the CPFLEnergia visit, we also went to examine the Flex Fuel injection technology engineered by Bosch. Bosch is now an international organization that holds its origins in Germany dating back to the late 19th century. They have been in Brazil for over 50 years and specialize in automobile technology, though they are also in other markets such as thermo-technology, industrial technology, and other electronic-affiliated fields.

Prior to my visit, i had heard of Bosch, and have seen their logo in widespread locations, but I did not know what their product line consisted of, and knew very little about Flex Fuel, its development, its use, and its advantages. Coming out of the visit I discovered that the Ford Model T, the first vehicle available for commercial sale used Flex Fuel, but the technology was then abandoned for various reasons internationally, including the Prohibition movement in the United States, as ethanol was an illegal substance, so cars resorted to straight gasoline. In Brazil however, Bosch made a huge impact in providing consumers with Flex Fuel vehicles as a national movement, and as a result, currently over 80% of the vehicles in Brazil can run on Flex Fuel, clearly the technology is effective enough to have a secure force in the market. Flex Fuel is also available in the United States, however, many consumers are unaware of what it is, or if their vehicles even have it, so its benefits are rarely exhibited or recognized. This could be avoided if Flex Fuel was advertised at all during driver’s education and if the government backed a merge between the ethanol production companies and gas stations around the country. Again, I found no policies that are enforced in the endorsement of Bosch’s Flex Fuel injection technology, though it would be beneficial to everyone if all vehicles came installed with Flex Fuel injection technology, as  it would benefit the national economy to use ethanol in transportation, as the United States is the biggest international producer of ethanol. In addition, it would also be beneficial to the conservation of our oil reserves, and help to keep gas prices stable. 

COMPANHIA PAULISTA DE FORCA E LUZ (16-07-13)

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cpflOn Tuesday, July 16, we visited CPFL Energia, a solar power plant in Campinas. This plant is the first of its kind in the state of Sao Paulo and in addition to generating and supplying their customers with power, the company also has a research department to develop new technologies with better efficiencies at lower prices. To complement their standard solar panels, the company has also installed ‘smart panels,’ which re-orient themselves regularly to maximize their photon intake efficiency.
Prior to coming here,I did not know such panels existed. I also learned how a solar plant is set up and how the energy is converted into a useful form. I believe these technologies are reasonably effective in Brazil as it is practical and is being used to power at least 657 customers from one plant alone. If this company seeks expansion, or other companies join the market, I believe solar energy could thrive in Brazil. ALthough the United States also exhibits solar energy, the main difference is its abundance. In the United States, only 12% of our energy consumption comes from renewable sources in comparison to Brazil, where 88% of the energy used is renewable (http://www.examiner.com/article/the-u-s-is-falling-behind-other-countries-renewable-energy). Therefore, it is appropriate to speculate that Brazil has a larger quantity of solar power plants (and other alternative energy plants), when compared to the United States. This will be improved whenever the United States decides to invest more in alternative energy, so that small innovative businessmen can have the money to carry out their business plans, which is only a matter of time. This technology is already in the states, but if I were to change something, it would have to be marketing. If the panels were marketed better I believe that they would definitely sell more, as many large companies that have the money to make the initial investment would certainly do it if they were more aware of what they would be saving in the future. I did not find any policies that regulate these technologies, but I am certain laws will come about to either prevent monopolies or to have the whole system under government regulation when it becomes big enough. I speculate that solar energy will catch on as it is considered a long term monetary and environmental investment. In the same way that the panels are expensive to install, but practically generate energy for free, they also costly to the environment in production, but save the environment in the long run despite their initial dent. These days, the sole purpose of any business is to make money, and if the business sells a product that is also environmentally friendly, or cost-effective, it is only easier to market.