An Irish Civil Engineering professional's perspective from Brazil

Posts tagged ‘Travel and Tourism’

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)


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.

Adapting to Brazil

Skyscrapers and beach, within metres of each other.

So I’ve arrived in Brazil and seem to be acclimatising fairly well so far. My spoken Portuguese is improving in leaps and bounds. Of course, I understand more of the language than I can speak, as with most languages in the beginning.

Now the real work of blending my own European approach with the mindset of the local industry begins, so as to better comprehend how things work here.

My first impressions were of a country not dissimilar to Ireland not so long ago. Of course, it’s hotter and more tropical too.

I have seen a lot of impressive new buildings already, and many more under construction. My current location isn’t even a major city like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. For example in Balneário Camboriú (a medium sized city by Brazilian standards), I witnessed the impressive high-rise buildings concentrated in an area adjacent to the beach. Most in an Art Deco style of Architecture, with vibrant colours and each one different in some way from the others. This is not something you will see in European cities of this size, it is more similar to major North American cities with the exception of the vivid colour schemes. At the same time, is this the best approach for this particular city to have taken? For a city with the beach (tourism) as it’s major industry, the sun is obscured by the skyscrapers by 2pm in the afternoon. Is this the best situation for the inhabitants, or not?

In my opinion, with the beacon of the World Cup in 2014 & the Rio Olympics in 2016, there is a tangible sense of optimism in the words of the Engineering professionals  I have spoken to so far. Brasil sees itself making great strides in the next decade and I agree with this sentiment. This is a time of opportunity for those involved in Brazil’s development. There is a vitality and inventiveness in the approach people have here. Couple this with the opportunity to further advance the infrastructure, and you have a unique recipe for possibly the most dynamic economy of the forthcoming decade.

As a footnote, the salaries of Steel fixers (on-site Rebar workers) in São Paulo, has risen by 4,72% in the last 12 months. Could this be the first signs of the rise in construction in Brazil? Only time will tell.

Of course, it’s not just Civil Engineering I am optimistic about in Brazil… all disciplines will be important in the development of Brazil’s future. Many multi-national companies (IT, Mineral, Oil & Gas etc) have already realised the prospect of Brazil’s potential.

More industry news to follow soon, as I am travelling to São Paulo in February.

Final preparations

It’s not long now until I’ll be on the plane to Brazil.

Of course they are a few errands still to be completed. The main obligations have already been finalised for a while now. Such as… utilities, An Post mailminder, etc.

For the most part I believe that many of my main lines of enquiry will leads me to Sao Paulo (SP) and Rio de Janeiro. However considering that the state of Minas Gerias (translates as General Mines) is a hub of mining activity, I probably will be paying Belo Horizonte (BH) a visit.  Also, places such as Recife, Porto Alegre, Brasilia, Sinop and Manaus are worth looking into as well. This list may significantly expand once I am there and finding new opportunities, where before I wouldn’t have expected them.

Now as you may be aware, Engineers Ireland has agreements (Washington, Sydney, etc) with many countries about the mutual recognition of Engineering titles. however no such agreement exists between EI and their Brazilian equivalent. This will, of course, be one of my first areas of investigation. And I will post any relevant information I find on this here. Engineering is a regulated profession in Brazil and this may (hopefully) fast-track my process of recognition in Brazil.  So we’ll see how that particular line of enquiry develops as we go.

So, there you have it. My flights are booked. Bags packed. Factor 50 sunscreen bought. Now all that has to be done is get myself there… and the then the really interesting posts should begin.

Keep an eye out for regular updates.

– EI… Keep Innovating.

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