While Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval wins the attention of millions around the globe with its momentous floats and ostentatious feathery costumes, Salvador, Brazil’s third-largest city, hosts a festival that demonstrates why it is the cultural heart of Brazil. This city of two million hosts a Carnaval lauded for the musical talent that performs during its week-long extravaganza. The festival is noted for its trios elétricos, enormous trucks rigged with state-of-the-art sound systems on top of which Brazilian music stars regal the crowds that flock to Carnaval before Lent begins. In recent years, the trios have converted to B20, a mix of 80% diesel and 20% biodiesel from sugar cane, which reduced the trio‘s carbon footprint.
This Carnaval, however, was noted for an engineering feat impressive for a disruptive technology that will change the direction of renewable energy: researchers at the University of Bahia’s (UFBA) Department of Engineering revealed in a news conference this morning that Daniela Mercury’s trio, retrofitted with arrays of lithium ion batteries, not only fueled her roving stage, but powered the entire city of Salvador during her 7 hour concert.
How did this work?
Partnering with LG Chemical, the lithium ion battery supplier for the GM Volt, UFBA engineers installed battery packs under the trio‘s chassis. Because of its size, 57 packs of batteries, each containing 12 modules, could power Mercury’s trio and the city’s infrastructure. Weeks before Carnaval, civil engineers installed 4 kilometers of cable underneath September 7th Boulevard–between a power station in Barra, where the procession began, and Rio Vermelho, the neighborhood at which UFBA’s testing center is located. The trio recharged at another local charging station in Vitoria, the neighborhood just north of where the procession began. After 8 hours of charging, the trio generated electricity, and through the subterranean cable, could power the substations of Coelba, Salvador’s electric utility.
The fact that a large Brazilian city, bursting with a huge onslaught of visitors, could be fueled by electric batteries is certainly a promising development. But the question that festers is, why wait several weeks to make this announcement? “This was the 60th anniversary of the trios elétricos tradition,” said a spokeswoman for Salvador’s mayor, João Henrique Carneiro. “We did not want to distract from this convivial event, and our city electricians had to conduct an audit verifying that no other sources of electricity were utilized.” UFBA’s engineers concurred. “In the interest of public safety, we decided to only share this information with certain public officials and Daniela Mercury’s staff,” replied Project Manager Renato Gilberto, when pressed for comment. “We signed a non-disclosure agreement with LG Chemical which required us to refrain from notifying the public until we could verify the results of this compelling experiment.”
LG Chemical has since announced that it will build a third lithium ion battery manufacturing plant near Salvador’s international airport. And so the exciting developments for Brazil continue to stack up: an alternative energy policy that has helped this nation achieve energy independence, remarkable progress on algae-to-biofuel research, and its status as a creditor nation–not to mention the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.
But what did spectators think, when confronted with this technological breakthrough?
“I don’t know much about electric cars or trucks, as I drive a flex-fuel Chevy that runs on sugar cane ethanol, which is often cheaper than gasoline,” said Patrica Rodrigues, who with her sister, Evette, visited from Porto Allegre during Carnaval, “but I will say Daniela Mercury put on a fantastic show, as she always has for the past 15 years.”
And as for the star performer herself?
Daniela Mercury, who is currently on tour promoting her Canibália album, was not available for comment, but her publicity agent for the European Market, Sebastian Fiero de la Terraqua, told me in an email, “We are proud of Daniela’s work with UNESCO, UNAIDS, and her non-profit work through Instituto Sol da Liberdade and Caravana da Musica. Her three days in Carnaval represented Earth, Water, and Fire, which aimed to promote awareness of the Earth’s precarious situation. She has made Salvador’s Carnaval what it is due to her 15 years of hard work, and it is only fitting that she has a leading role in reducing the threat of climate change.”