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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