In this episode of Urban Visions we are in Rio de Janeiro, which like most big cities is facing the challenge of growing urbanisation. And getting people around is far from easy.
Some of the key smart mobility solutions in Rio de Janeiro:
- The biofuel ethanol, which comes from sugar cane, is widely used in “flexi-fuel” vehicles
- Cable cars, like those seen in ski resorts, provide transport across favela communities
- To help reduce pollution, nearly all taxis in Rio now run on compressed natural gas
- Public transport networks, including buses and metro lines, are being expanded
- The direction of traffic is changeable on some main roads, depending on congestion
- The city now has about 450 kilometres of cycle lanes, with plans for much more
- Major roads close to beaches are often blocked to traffic to create pedestrian zones
Euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported from on board a cable car that hovers above a residential neighbourhood.
“One of the newest and most novel transport solutions here is this network of 150 cable cars,” he said. “They can carry some 30,000 people every day across numerous favela communities built on steep hillsides, cutting a one hour journey down to just 15 minutes.”
Locals get a free daily round-trip on the cable cars and there are plans to build more of them.
But what Brazil is best known for are vehicles that run on ethanol, a biofuel made from sugar cane.
Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, an energy expert at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told Urban Visions: “Ethanol became very important in Brazil after the oil crisis in the 70s. Back then Brazil didn’t produce a significant amount of oil. Also, the prices were very high.”
Petrol here is blended with a quarter of ethanol. Light vehicles no longer run on pure petrol; they run on just ethanol or the special blend.
But Ethanol has suffered from fluctuations in the market, and Rio was recently forced to slash taxes on the fuel to help the sector.
Maria Paula Martins, the coordinator of a sustainable energy programme (Rio Energy Capital) for the state of Rio told Euronews: “The State of Rio de Janeiro consumes 5 per cent of ethanol produced in Brazil, but it only produces 0,5 per cent. Therefore we’ve launched a programme to stimulate ethanol production, so we can gradually move towards self-sufficiency.”
Lower petrol prices have also hit ethanol demand and Brazil has now made major oil discoveries. But could that really be a challenge to the nation’s biofuel of choice and its popular flexi-fuel cars?
Luiz Pinguelli Rosa at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro said: “Brazil should stick to ethanol, and there’s a reason for that: climate change. The use of ethanol doesn’t harm the atmosphere as much as petrol does.”
Experts at the International Energy Agency say biofuels could make up 27 per cent of the world’s transport fuel by 2050.
A lot of that could be Brazilian and US ethanol, but biofuels also now even come from waste.
Michael Fiedler-Panajotopoulos from the Waste-based Fuels Association in Germany told Urban Visions: “Europe was the first to develop waste-based biofuels and support them with policy. I recently had a Brazilian delegation at my plant in Germany, and they were encouraged to copy the European system.”
With the unpredictability in the global energy market, countries like Brazil know the importance of keeping your options open.