Green Tech

South America is fast becoming a hub for green innovation and the development of sustainable technologies. More and more foreign companies are coming on board to partner with South American companies in what has become a rapidly growing area – the development of clean ‘green’ technology and renewable energy.

Many factors contribute to this. These include the drop in the cost of solar power, the fact that governments have put in place development-friendly regulations, and that South America has abundant resources. These all combine to boost multilateral initiatives to develop and commercialize sustainable technology, so that green tech industries are growing fast in countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, to mention but a few.

Use of natural building materials

There is a growing trend throughout South America for the use of natural building materials. Bio-based aggregates and polymers are being used more and more in construction. To encourage this trend, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru have introduced measures like tax cuts and soft loans for sustainable building construction. Straw bale construction is being used for the material’s excellent insulating and high thermo-acoustic properties in the construction of warehouses for the storage of bulk foodstuffs.

Straw bale construction

Manuel Vazquez, an Argentinian agricultural engineer, who heard about the use of straw bales in constructing warehouses for storing olive oil in extreme climates, became co-founder of the company Henia Carbono Negativo. They make pre-assembled building panels of straw bales, using only biological materials in their construction. The use of straw as a building material is particularly suited to earthquake-bedeviled Argentina with its hot summers and extremely cold winters as it is notably earthquake-resistant.

Super-adobe earth houses

Another green technique that is gaining ground in South America is the use of so-called ‘superadobe’, a form of earthbag architecture that was first developed by Iranian architect, Nader Khalili. The technique utilizes fabric tubes or bags that are filled with an adobe mixture (usually earth mixed with water and some organic material like straw). These adobe-filled bags are layered to form a structure that relies on compression for its viability. Earth houses are particularly noted for their excellent insulating properties and cost-effectiveness. Argentina has one of the most notable proponents of this building technique in the world, Jorge Belanko, who specializes particularly in earth buildings.

However, green technology is also making an impact on a much larger scale in South America.

Reinforced recycled asphalt rehabilitates roads

When the Institute of Urban Development of Bogota decided that their degraded road infrastructure had to be rehabilitated, they were faced with the problem that large existing waste asphalt stockpiles had to be used in the project. Unfortunately, the strength of the existing reclaimed asphalt material (varying between 200 to 300 MPa) was too low to do an acceptable job. A product called Neoloy Geocells provided the solution.

Geocells, called geocelulas in Portuguese and geoceldas in Spanish, are a cellular confinement system where novel polymeric alloy strips are welded into a honeycomb shape. The spaces can then be filled with whatever material needs to be used. In Bogota, it enabled contractors to rehabilitate their roads with unprocessed RAP (Recycled Asphalt Paving) thus resulting in significant cost savings.

The use of this innovative solution increased the strength of the infill material from 200 MPa to 1000. The time needed for excavation, infill and compaction was also reduced. The savings were so significant that the program was extended to include another 50 streets.

Mexico is building Latin America’s largest solar installation

Another massive solar installation is being built in Mexico as part of its transformative efforts to provide 35% of Mexico’s energy from renewable sources by the year 2024.

In the state of Coahuila, in Northeast Mexico, Enel Green Power México is constructing what will be the largest solar energy installation in Latin America. It covers a staggering 2,900 acres and will contain 2,3 million solar panels that will track with the sun to increase the solar yield. In September 2018 it was announced that Enel Green Power México was feeding into the grid about 1,089 MW of solar energy in Mexico. This was in conjunction with their Don José solar park, in the State of Guanajuato.

It was also announced that Enel Green Power México has started work on a $120 million wind park in Tamaulipas to join Mexico’s already more than 40 operating wind farms.

Earthship school in Jaureguiberry, Uruguay

The construction of this building was couched in the ethos of combining traditional education with the innovative use of resources under the guidance of Earthship pioneer, North American architect, Michael Reynolds.

The amazing and quite beautiful building comprises 270 square meters and is situated on the coast of Jaureguiberry, Canelones in Uruguay. It took Reynolds and a team of students only seven weeks to build and consists of approximately 60% recycled materials, and only 40% of traditional materials. About 2,000 tires, 3,000 glass bottles, 12,000 tin cans and 1,500 plastic bottles were utilized in is construction. It is completely off-grid and uses thermal and solar cooling and heating, collects its own water and contains is own sewage treatment system. The school also has its own well-composted food gardens with vegetables like strawberries, tomatoes, chard and basil.