All You Want to Know.. On Sugar Bioethanol!

On Monday, May 20th– we spent the majority of our morning at SURCAL- a sugar bioethanol producer. I learned a lot while there, so I am going to take some time to inform you on all that I learned through the Directors that took the time to speak with us. J

Brazil is the largest producer of sugar in the world as well as the largest producer of sugar bioethanol.  At one point in the recent past, 85% of cars produced in the world ran solely on bioethanol, now less than 1% of cars produced run solely on ethanol. Sugar and ethanol come from the same crop. A flex motor can run on ethanol or gasoline. This was developed in the 90’s. Now 85% of all cars produced have this motor. When ethanol is 70 % lower than the price of gas, that it’s one it becomes advantageous to produce ethanol. The production of ethanol is also more advantageous than the production of gasoline.

Sugarcane was introduced to Brazil in the 1500’s. Brazil has been working with sugar cane for more than 500 years. Cuba used to produce more sugarcane, but not anymore. 550 million tons of sugarcane are produced a year. Roughly a 50/50 split between ethanol and sugar. This increase is due to more land, new technology and new cultivars. Burning of land in sugarcane harvesting is now prohibited.  1 acre burned of sugar cane is the equivalent of 30 barrels of petroleum going into the atmosphere.

Now there is new areas of Brazil that are being used to grow crops for sugar. This is to Brazil as the west is to the United States. The sugarcane is renewed on cycles. In a field there are typically 6-7 crops. They are on rotation. Planting of the sugarcane is the biggest production cost.

Cycle: sugarcane= sugar = energy

Sugarcane= ethanol = energy

Energy produced amounts to about 5-6% of Brazil’s total energy production in a year. In the future, they would like 10-11% of total energy production to come from sugarcane. There is now research being done on the economic gain from producing more alcohol from the byproduct or producing energy with the byproduct. This doesn’t take into account the energy demand of Brazil’s residents.

One take away: decisions are always being made based on the economic benefit; what action is the most cost effective.

Production plants: must be flat; logistics= close to rivers and highways; the plants must be able to produce 1.5 million tons or more a year.

Importance of sugarcane to the development of Brazil:

Way back when it created a lot of employment- 1000 people on a farm x 400 farms= a lot of people.

Biggest problems is not production, but the technology of transporting goods in a timely manner as well as logistics. In example, the US has given much attention to water transportation like canals and dams. This makes it very cheap. Rail has been hurt very bad… it was privatized and now rail is trying to make up for lost time. Water transport is cheapest and then rail is after that. Does Brazil need to be following in the footsteps of the US regarding the dam infrastructure for subsidized agricultural crops? I say: NO.

A few take aways from SURCAL:  I am completely floored and amazed that there are sustainable companies such as this that are continually looking to make better processes and try to reduce waste. I would not be surprised if within the next few years SURCAL becomes completely green in that they don’t need to rely on any outside sources for their production, and also have zero waste.  Before going to Brazil I was operating on this assumption that Brazil is one of the most sustainable countries in the planet—I still agree with this assumption, although they are doing other things- like wanting to invest in dam infrastructure that changes my mind.


Channelized Rivers and A Different Education System

Universidade Sao Paulo – Day 3

Today we packed up all our things and headed to the University of Sao Paulo during rush hour traffic. Let me tell you, you think traffic is bad in Seattle?? Sao Paulo is an entirely different playing field! Just a few miles of city travel can take over two hours! On our way to the university we passed one of Sao Paulo’s many channeled rivers. As the bus crossed the bridge we all saw this crazy floating crane contraption trying to clean gunk out of the river. The irony is that our guide told us there is a river that runs parallel to this one that is not polluted and its used for recreation only. It is starting to baffle my mind how much pollution there is here and how it appears the residents of this place are totally accustomed to it; it’s just their way of life. I’m under the impression that they realize that it’s polluted, and they know it’s bad, however I don’t know of any action that is taking place on the public side to clean up the pollution and focus on a clean river. One could say though that the floating crane does show action on at least some level, right??

To be fair, I don’t even know the names of these rivers… I have barely been exposed to this culture and environment, and I am pushing all of my biases and assumptions onto this place. One take away for me is that I need to look up more information about these rivers and try to put myself in the shoes of these residents to truly understand these complexities.

Once at USP, we met first with a professor of public policy who painted the picture of what the education system is like in Brazil. The system in place provides public education for free to all people- Brazilians and international students; this even includes higher education. (Umm… should I come here for my PhD?!) However, if you are an exchange student then you have to pay your home university’s tuition. So, if you decided to apply and stay at USP then you would not have to pay for tuition.

We were told by the professor that the education system in Brazil is taken very seriously which is why all public education is free. This is very unfair though because to get into a public college you must go to a private high school and pay to take special courses to even get into the public university. So, as it turns out, the people that end up at public universities are the ones that can actually pay for it. (Because they can pay for a private high school education.)

It was great for me to learn about how different the education system is here because I honestly had no idea that the education systems around the world could vary so widely.



Coffee= An Amazing, Wonderful Crop (duh)

Right now there are 103 species of coffee grown in the world, which is mainly for the purpose of having a worldwide germplasm bank. There are only two species of coffee that have economic value: Coffea arabacia & Coffea robusta. Right now there are 18 species grown at the Agronomy Institute or IAC. These species provide the genetic diversity needed to create the cultivars that will grow in Brazil’s widely varying growing conditions. Among these species, you will find totally different sizes of plants as well as varying fruit colors and textures. Brazil is the number two grower in the world for coffee, right behind Africa. Coffee is also the second highest good in the world; petroleum is number one. (Too my dismay, it will probably stay that way).

I have to say that I am very surprised to hear that coffee is the number two good in the world. I don’t really know why it is so surprising, maybe it just threw me a bit off guard. I honestly had no idea that there are only two species that grow for the actual production of coffee. The research that the IAC is doing is definitely catapulting the industry even further in Brazil because the plants are now able to respond better and better to environmental factors. I am going to keep this post very short, but I’ll be honest in that now that I know even more about coffee I want to look into Starbucks and see how much coffee they buy an be from where. This may also sound awful, but I also can’t wait to get a Starbucks in the Atlanta airport on the way home next week!!




The Importance of Language in a Worldly Society

On Wednesday, (05/15/13), we were at the Universidade de Campinas or UNICAMP for short. I learned that Campinas is a very interesting city to live in: almost three million people live there; Campinas is the third largest industrial region in Brazil; and 50 of Brazil’s largest companies have branches in Campinas. When it was originally founded it was an agricultural town.

We were there the whole day, but there is one thing I’d really like to reflect on in particular. This experience would be the presentation WSU students gave to UNICAMP students. The faculty on the trip let us know the night we got to Brazil that UNICAMP asked us to have a student presentation… this didn’t really make any of us nervous, but it did make me think it would be difficult giving a 30 minute presentation with 12 very involved WSU student leaders. We spent a whole evening diplomatically figuring out what we should say about WSU, and ended up with seven students who wanted to present (myself included).

We were all ready to go and ended up being about ten minutes late to our presentation, and we were all shocked to walk into a packed classroom of at least 50 students who were eagerly waiting to hear about an American college experience. Our presentation went incredibly well- we talked about where WSU is, our pride, our campus resources, and how we strive to connect students to the greater community outside of academia.

When it came time for questions, not many students were asking questions right away. Luckily we had some help answering the more difficult questions by the faculty in attendance, and by the end the whole classroom was laughing when we were able to describe that in good old Pullman, Washington there is the incredible experience of having four seasons!

After the presentation, a student was talking with Kathryn (another WSU student on the trip) and myself about how she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to come to the US because of her English. We asked her if it was the written or spoken English she was worried about and she said oral. I need to stop here for a second and say that this comment totally floored me. Not only did she speak incredibly well, but she was so easy to understand. I’m sure that even with years of Portuguese lessons I wouldn’t be as easily understood as this student…. so why, I ask, am I not fluent in another foreign language like my new friend, Gabriela?

Countries around the world are teaching their youth English at a very young age, and Americans are continuing to fall further and further behind in bilingualism in such a worldly, globalized time. The US is recruiting more and more international students to their universities while US students are going to countries that are heavily populated with English speakers. This aggravates me. I know that I am being somewhat hypocritical with this comment, but it really makes me mad. Students all over the world are taking the time to learn English to come to America, and what is the US doing in return?

I can’t ever say that I have stopped to think about this exchange of students, and this trip is giving me an entirely different view. I am so thankful that the US is privileged in having so many foreign students coming to our institutions because it enriches the lives of the American students who aren’t going abroad. I know that this trip is going to give me so much more patience and respect for the international students that I encounter on a weekly basis at WSU. It is not easy going to another country and being around unaccepting people.

In the end, Kathryn and I exchanged information with Gabriela so that we can help her with English, and so that she can help us with Portuguese. And, I really have to express my respect for all of these Brazilians I have encountered who know English. It is not an easy language, and you are more worldly for your efforts.

I am more determined than ever to learn Portuguese and come back to Brazil!


The UNICAMP campus is even beautiful!!

Local–> Global Connections… SEL Campinas

Day 4

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is a global company. If you would have asked me that in Pullman, I probably would have responded “no”. I say this because although I have lived in Pullman for over six years, I have never actually visited the company or taken the time to get to know what they do. We as a group had the opportunity to visit with the SEL brand office in Campinas. We all learned a lot, but I walked away with a lot of things to think about that apply directly to my thesis research and interests in landscape architecture. (Let me explain) 🙂

The SEL mission is to make power safer, more reliable and more economical…. I had no idea that SEL engineers products to make this happen, and that they were marketing these strategies to developing countries. SEL Campinas’ largest customer tends to be petrochemicals… this year is somewhat leaning towards generator customers. (More specifically the relays for the generators.) A lot of this need, or my understanding of it, comes out of the blackouts that have been occurring here for decades.

In example, there were 5 blackouts in Brazil last year. Our partners explained that this directly relates to their growth which is about 15% or more per year, and the northern part of the country definitely doesn’t have good electrical systems in place. We were told that 70% of Brazil’s energy comes from hydropower because it is the cheapest source of energy. I mean, it makes sense because they get so much rain every year and have so many rivers.

Most power in Campinas comes from itaipu dam. Last year a huge storm hit itaipu dam and thunder hit the transmission lines. This is bad because the way Brazil has their energy system set up, if thunder hits the transmission lines then a blackout occurs in the whole system because there is no way to compartmentalize the part that is down.

SEL explained its hard to convince the power companies or government to use a new technology so that there is a better and unified system across the country so that there are less blackouts. We were told that a lot of it has to do with the fact that here the product needs to be shown as a part of a solution for the product to sell; in US the product is sold by looking specifically at the product details.

I greatly appreciate that the staff at SEL Campinas took the time to explain to us that even the marketing you have to do in Brazil varies greatly then how you would market product in the US.

All of the information I gathered has armed me with a lot of questions and thoughts. First, it makes me really happy that a worldly company that is from my home is seriously considering the future of power production and ways to make it better—especially in other countries. Secondly, I am considering the fact that here in Brazil, what people truly care about and value is significantly different then back home. I think this can be seen in how they care for their environment. (I am seriously looking at the rivers with this point.) Lastly, I can’t help but make the connection that when it comes to our environment, there is much work to be done across scales.

To explain, I am noticing all of this work that is being done to be more mindful of the environment and how we harness it for energy, however, are those that are producing this energy considering the implications this production is having on scales larger than their own needs? Brazil, the US and other countries are producing energy to meet the demand for their own country’s growth, but what about the connections between these countries and the ecological regions that naturally connect without our forethought?

I have to really hand it over to SEL. They are modeling to me something that is extremely important: energy production across scales. I only hope that when I get back to Pullman I can go meet with them and truly explore how a landscape architect can assist in their company because I am seeing a very strong connection between the work and research I am interested in doing, and the work the are already doing across borders and regions of the world.


This picture is part of a timeline of events for SEL. In 2007 thry became more sustainable by switching from paper to digital versions of materials.

We live in a wo…

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes wide open.
– Jawaharlal Nehru

Throughout the semester we have spent a lot of time speaking about being open to different perspectives and ideas; even ways of life.  I know that Brazil is going to be great and I know I need to look at things with an open mind. I truly hope that my subconscious and conscious act in congruence so that I truly see the adventure of Brazil with eyes wide open. I am in disbelief that I will be headed there in less than 4 days!

T-minus 7 days until Sao Paulo, Brazil!







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It is hard for me to believe that in just one short week I will be headed to Brazil with 11 other WSU students and four faculty for 15 days. I feel like it was just yesterday I heard about this opportunity, and now it is almost finally here!  I am so thankful that all of my finances have been worked out so that I can go!

Earlier on in the semester I presented briefly on the Amazon River Basin (ARB). The ARB is the largest river basin in the world, and the largest portion of the ARB lies in Brazil. Through my graduate coursework I have learned a lot about the Columbia River Basin (CRB), and it amazes me that the ARB is about 10 times the size of the CRB. !!!!

I can’t wait to go to Brazil and see how differently they are with their culture and ways of life. I mentioned my interests in river basins; I plan on really focusing on how Brazilians look at ‘the river’ (including tributaries, or even other natural water bodies) when I’m there.  I can’t even hypothesize how their culture views water bodies because I am going to Brazil to learn, explore and understand.

I look forward to truly opening my eyes to a different culture and different perspectives, and keeping track of what I notice through my blog. I really hope that you all enjoy reading!

As always, GO COUGS!