An Irish Civil Engineering professional's perspective from Brazil

Posts tagged ‘South America’

Brazil’s leap into better energy supply

New power plant, to be in place and operational before 2014

Nicknamed “The Marvelous City,” Rio de Janeiro is the gateway to Brazil. And soon over 7-million spectators will arrive for the highly anticipated 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. The world will watch as Rio becomes the first city to host the Olympic games in South America and only the second to ever host both events back to back. There is however growing concern that the Olympic torch will be the only thing illuminating the night sky. That’s because Rio has repeatedly fallen victim to some of the worst power failures in history. So the Brazilian government has launched an ambitious plan to remove the entire city from the nation’s aging power grid and transform Rio into a self-sufficient ‘power island.’ The plan includes re-linking over 160 km of power lines, building the largest nuclear generator in the country, and the lynchpin: the Simplício Hydroelectric Complex.

This is one the of largest construction sites in the world, spanning an incredible 24 km. Crews are racing to divert over 780-billion gallons of water from the Paraiba do Sul River through some of the world’s widest tunnels. Once operational, this hydroelectric facility will help to generate nearly 30% more power for Rio. But with January storms threatening to dump over a foot of rain on their progress, crews must prepare for the messy and dangerous road ahead.

The project is a joint venture between Odebrecht Energy (leader) and Andrade Gutierrez. The project, contracted by Eletrobras (Furnas Centrais Elétricas S.A.), encompasses the towns of Três Rios and Sapucaia (Rio de Janeiro), Além Paraíba and Chiador (Minas Gerais) and includes a concrete dam in Anta, and two energy houses separated by a hydraulic circuit formed by channels, dikes and tunnels. When finished the Complex will have a production capacity of 333.7 MW.

The decision to re-route the river (as opposed to creating a reservoir, by flooding upstream) was in the interest of minimizing the project’s social and environmental impact on the region.

According to Fernando Chein, Contract Director, the construction of the Anta dam with Rolled Compacted Concrete is a major advantage:

“The system presents advantages such as speed in finishing the project and in the reduction, by half, in the use of cement by cubic meter of concrete”.

Seven of the Widest Tunnels in the World
Countless waterfalls and rapids make the Paraiba do Sul one of the wildest rivers in Brazil. To accommodate its torrent, each of the 7 diversion tunnels on the Simplício Hydroelectric Project must measure over 50 m in circumference. But there isn’t a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) on the planet that large. So workers must rely on a far more dangerous method of tunneling — heavy-duty jumbo drills and dynamite.


Tunnel no.3 (6km long)

One of the Biggest Construction Sites in the World
The Simplício Hydroelectric Complex spans over 24 km, making it one of the biggest construction sites on Earth. Not only is this project larger than Manhattan Island, it’s also equipped with a city-like infrastructure complete with 5 medical centers, 4 data/voice towers, 6 cafeterias, 3 concrete plants, and a fleet of 70 cars and buses.

Everything in this project is on a grand scale

One of the Largest Earth-Moving Projects in the World
If a dam is constructed directly on the Paraiba do Sul River the reservoir it creates will flood the nearby town of Sapucaia. Rather than displace 130,000 people, engineers are diverting the river for a stretch of 24 km through 7 different mountains and 13 man-made channels. To pull off a job of this size workers must use over 600 different earth-moving vehicles. The contractors are utilising a an innovative construction method for the Civil works called hydroseeding, in order to stabilise the slopes.

Some of the Civil Engineering works in the Simplício complex

Longest Power Transmission Link Ever Built
Approximately 90% of Brazil’s power comes from hydroelectricity. And because most of the country’s water is located in the Amazon rainforest, an extensive power grid is needed to connect remote hydroelectric outposts with major coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro. The latest addition to this grid will extend an unprecedented 2,400 km, making it the longest power transmission link in the world.

3 Giant Turbines
The Francis turbine is the most widely used hydro turbine on the planet. Here at Simplício, 3 of them will be in use, each capable of generating 102 megawatts of power. But the real benefit to the Francis turbine is adaptability. The erratic flow of the Paraiba do Sul creates a major obstacle for this project because drastic changes in water pressure at a hydroelectric plant either hamper energy production or completely destroy the turbines. The Francis turbine however has a revolutionary design that accommodates heads ranging anywhere from 9 m to upwards of 30 m.

Most Powerful Hydroelectric Plant in the World
The Itaipu Dam is Brazil’s greatest source of energy and home to one of the biggest hydroelectric complexes in the world. It is located in the south of Brazil, near the Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. In 2008 the plant generated a record 94.68-billion kilowatt-hours. That’s over 10-billion kilowatt-hours more than Three Gorges Dam! Here, maintenance is paramount since Itaipu supplies 20% of the energy consumed by Brazil and 90% of that consumed by Paraguay.

Itaipu dam (low flow)

WFO activity in Brazil

Some recent developments in relation to the improvements currently taking place in the health system and its infrastructure in Brazil.

The World Family Organisation is planning to build a few hospitals in Brazil over the next five years.

The WFO is currently constructing a much-needed regional hospital in the city of Biguaçu in state of Santa Catarina.

Dr. Deisi Kusztra (President of the World Family Organization) acompanying Raimundo Columbo (governor of Santa Catarina) during an inspection of construction work at Biguaçu Regional Hospital on February 4, 2011.

For more on this project, plese visit the WFO News Archives at the following link: Training in Biguaçu Municipality – SC

The same NGO has already built one hospital (in 2008) in the larger city of Balneário Camboriú in Santa Catarina.

Whilst Brazil can proudly boast one of the best public health systems in the world, it is only true on paper.

Coping with a population of nearly 200 million makes SUS (Universal Health System) painstakingly beaurocratic and at times completely ineffective.

However with continued investment, as the current Government is hoping and working towards, there will be a substantial improvement in the efficiency and standards which have hampered Brazil’s social progress (and consequently economic progress also).

The tide arrives, for Naval Engineering in Brazil

Some news which may be of interest to those of my readership who are involved in Maritime design. The naval industry (Ship Design, Naval Construction, Naval or Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture, etc) is currently very lucrative in Brazil. As is the whole area of petrochemical extraction and it’s related sub-industries.

Ever since the initial discovery of the oil resources off the coast off the continent, there has been immense anticipation of just how large exactly they were.  Of course, preliminary estimates were tentative. Then the more detailed studies began to sound fantastically optimistic. Such large numbers were suggested by experts, that many saw this as an opportunity for Brazil to leapfrog itself into a prime position in global oil production.

However, now that Petrobras (among others) has started to invest in the infrastructure for its future prospects, it certainly seems to be turning into reality.

Image via Wikipedia

The first 100% Brazilian oil platform...

For example; Petrobras is currently constructing 15 mobile oil processing ships for its current projects. This does not include what Petrobras will construct for its future prospects in the recently discovered oilfields in the Atlantic ocean to the east of Brazil. Such as in the Santos Basin, the Campos Basin (namely Peregrino), the Espirito-Santo Basin, the Jejuitinhonha & Camamu-Almada… all of which are off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.

Graphic representation of a processing vessel's role

So to put this into context, each one of these 15 ships is valued at $1.3 billion dollars!

Typical example of an extraction vessel for crude oil

Through my recent conversations with senior members of this industry, I have become aware of the growth in this sector. To the extent that being a senior designer in this area, can mean you are at will to name your price ( meaning a more than substantial income), such is the current demand for these skills.

So, if you are thinking of expanding your horizons, and would like to be part of a developing resource… then Brazil is the place for you to go.

Renewable Energy news

Lanxess Completes “Sugar Cane” Power Plant In Brazil.

Image via Wikipedia

Ecologically grown sugarcane in Brazil for production of enthanol

Specialty chemicals group Lanxess has completed a cogeneration plant to produce steam and power from biobased sources at its iron oxide facility in Porto Feliz, Sao Paulo state, Brazil. The plant runs on sugarcane bagasse.

Ethanol produced from the sugar in sugarcane, is also very popular in Brazil as an alternative fuel for vehicles. Most “petrol stations” here stock it alongside the other common fuels. Being cheaper than petrol and diesel, it is of course popular. However it does not perform as well as the more traditional options. Roughly lasting 75% of the distance that diesel would get you.


Brazil Backs $4-Billion Peruvian Hydropower Project

A Brazilian-backed proposal to build a 2,000-megawatt hydroelectric plant in the Peruvian Amazon has gained momentum in recent weeks as the government of the Andean nation has thrown its weight behind the effort.

Let’s hope that this project is handled as carefully as it should be. The Amazon Basin is a unique resource, and it has endured enough damage through man’s actions. I am assured that projects in this region are now strictly planned and maintained to preserve the environment of the Amazon. This may be true for the majority of the Basin, which is in Brazil, however I sincerely hope that Peru will take a similar attitude when embarking on this project.


Brazil is the world’s tenth largest energy consumer with much of its energy coming from renewable sources, particularly hydroelectricity and ethanol; non-renewable energy is mainly produced from oil and natural gas. A global power in agriculture and natural resources, Brazil experienced tremendous economic growth over the past three decades. It is expected to become a major oil producer and exporter, having recently made huge oil discoveries.

More news coming soon, on these (soon to be operational) Oil fields.

Brazil plans High-Speed Rail

As I previously mentioned on this blog, there are plans for a high-speed (circa 350kph) rail service to be in place for the upcoming World events in Brazil (2014 & 2016). Stretching for just over 500km, it will link the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, including stops at their respective international airports. Construction costs are estimated in the area of $19 billion (circa €14 billion, or circa R$34 billion).


There is no national rail network in Brazil today, however there was a limited rail route around some major port cities a century ago. This network is now used to a certain amount for freight transport. Now to start a modern rail network is no small feat, without even having a widespread existing (if outdated) national network. Especially considering that Brazil is such a huge country (fifth largest in the world), and has a population of circa 192 million people (also fifth largest in world).

I have to say, I admire the aspirations that Brazil is pursuing. This is an example of how Brazil is affirming itself on the international stage, through it’s forward-looking investment and a determined positive attitude. In my opinion, many countries could learn much from the approach Brazil demonstrates in this respect.

The proposed high-speed train line will be operating in a corridor which contains the most populous areas in the whole country. It is estimated that circa 18.75% of the Brazilian population reside in this future rail corridor. This area of Brazil also accounts for generating a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The latest industry rumours suggest that it may not reach completion before Brazil hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup. More than likely it will now only be operational by the 2016 Rio Olympics.

A Different Pace

Downtown of Florianópolis City,Capital of Sant...

Image via Wikipedia

It should be noted for those unaware of it, that many things in Brazil happen at a different pace than in Ireland and Europe. Some things at a much more relaxed and steady pace, others at startling speed. It really can vary from place to place also.

For instance, where I am based in Santa Catarina, there is a road in need of repair for quite a few years now (apparently). It’s only a minor road mind, exactly the same as you might find in Ireland (asphalt overdue a refurbishment). However, nearby a six storey building has risen from basement to roof, in the space of a few weeks.

Obviously, there is a discrepancy between the public and private sectors in terms of project speed. Which of course is true for many countries (Ireland included). As each sector has its own priorities and budget parameters respectively. This is just an example to illustrate other scenarios which I have witnessed and experienced, during my time in Brazil.

So take heed when you are told that things are different here… but don’t see this as a negative aspect, it’s quite the opposite.

First Trip to São Paulo

Despite the 43 days of torrential rain that had hindered the planning of my trip to São Paulo, I got there without encountering a flood even once. It was quite an adaption to be in such an enormous metropolis. São Paulo (SP as it is known) has a population of 11.04 million people (and rising) and covers an area of 1,522,986 km²… therefore there is a population density of approximately 7,200 inhabitants/km².  The city boasts an impressive and efficient Metro system, I was more than happy to use it whenever necessary. However, in my opinion it could be better if it served a larger amount of the city. As it is, the Metro only covers the needs of the central areas. This being said, there is of course an extensive Public Transport system in the form of Bus routes to any place you require. Adjacent to the Tietê River (in North Central SP) is the Tietê Bus Terminal… apparently the second biggest bus terminal in the world. There is no national rail network in Brazil at the moment, however I have been informed that there are plans to link Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo with a high-speed inter-city train in the future. So, that’s SP in a nutshell… I could continue describing the city at length, but I think I’ll leave that for another Post.

My main motivation in travelling to SP was to gain an insight into the atmosphere and opinions which exist there, as there are many large Engineering firms operating out of SP. Not to mention the numerous multi-nationals which have made the city their base for South America also.

While there, I held a meeting with Instituto de Engenharia do Brasil (Institute of Engineers of Brazil). I received a friendly & enthusiastic welcome from the Institution, and I am taking this opportunity to thank the Senior Management of Instituto de Engenharia for the commendable manner in which they hosted me. In my opinion this was a very productive meeting, as we found many areas of mutual interest. Notably the further development of communication and co-operation between Instituto de Engenharia and Engineers Ireland. I believe this is a beneficial relationship for both professional bodies… and thus to both organisations’ members as a whole.

We also discussed the process of registration for Engineers in Brazil. There is a Government Department called CREA, which is responsible for this function (as well the registration of non-Brazilian Engineers of course). The process can apparently take from 6 months to 1 year, before you are issued with a Licence to practise Engineering in Brazil. I will research this in more detail, and post updates accordingly in the future.

Parallel to this, I had discussions with various Engineering professionals,who informed me of their opinions on the industry in SP and their own views on the future for Brazilian Engineering in general. The foremost theme of these discussions was the development which would be generated by the World Cup (2014) and the Rio Olympics (2016). As well as the unique position Brazil now holds in terms of foreign investment opportunities, and the resulting effect this will have on the economy. The mood amongst those I talked to was primarily of optimism and innovation for the future in Brazil. I have to say, I have noticed on many occasions the ingenious way in which Brazilians can form solutions to whatever they encounter… so apply this rare trait to an opportuniy such as Brazil has, and the results could be spectacular.

Overall, I am very satisfied with my trip to São Paulo and I plan to return there soon to follow-up on my activity so far. As well as meeting individuals who have since expressed an interest in discussing  the Brazilian Engineering industry with myself.

Please visit the websites of the various organisations to familiarise yourself more…

PS: If you ever visit São Paulo on business, try to avoid wearing a dark suit, as it can be very hot in the midday sun.

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