Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012


By the end of week five the build team had completed much of the heavy and complicated construction work necessary to house a gravity feed water filtration system and the related solar power components.  

Installing the cages takes a fair amount of time and for the Second Tier Bond Beam much of the fabrication had to be established in place.  For this install the build team had additional help from Corey and Ethan who installed much of the cages with the help of the now seasoned cage fabricator, Chris.  Corey and Ethan also poured the Second Tier Bond Beam.

The form work for the second tier bond beam is crafted in such a way that there are no yokes to impede the flatwork/finishing that has to take place to the top of the bond beam. It is poured as one continuous unit to eliminate any cold joints and for greater structural integrity.  Much of the form work is built in place and supported to the structure below. 

By the fifth week, which was actually the fourth week of construction, the retaining walls, closet walls, slabs, and shelf are nearly complete. 

Throughout the project the build team tirelessly mixed and poured concrete.  For the Final large pour (Second Tier Bond Beam) the build team employed the help of a local mason and his helper.  We also set up a "pulley" to move buckets of concrete.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


At the site of our school and water tower builds there are a variety of systems and technologies that are currently implemented and proposed for this year.  These systems include:  solar power, solar thermal, rural internet, bio-sand filter, and a fast sand filter which is diagrammed above.  The basic sketch diagrams the staging of tanks that will be used to filter out the iron that is very present in all of the water that feeds the school and lodge.  In addition to the tanks there will be two solar panels, a solar pump that drafts water from the well, and two float switches that will control water flow and timing.  This system can be expanded to meet local needs of potable water with the addition of charcoal tanks which are used locally for drinking water at a near by ranch.  For now the water tower and filtration system target the removal of iron from the well water. The new tower will also be taller than the last and in turn produce greater water pressure.

The solar panels are located with northern exposure in the southern hemisphere and are easily accessible.  Additional panels can be added to the system very easily to accommodate growing needs.

In the mechanical room there is a solar charge converter, inverter, and battery that supplies the schools lighting and outlets.  This system is designed to be easily expandable for growing demand.

A system that would provide internet through cellular signal amplification was designed by e-magine at the University of Michigan specifically for rural and remote regions.  The system includes a signal booster, modem with sim card, router, a directional antenna and arduino technology to respond to humidity.  A viable internet connection has not yet been realized but through strategic testing we have targeted specific issues that will be tested out to pinpoint and resolve the problem.  Currently we believe that we need either more height on the antenna or there may be a problem with our signal booster. There is also a general question of what signals can be amplified and if cellular and data signals are fundamentally different and if so, is there a viable signal close enough to be amplified.

Solar thermal has been implemented locally as a means to provide hot water which is currently used only for showers but has the potential to expand.

This year a team of engineering students implemented a bio sand water filter at the site and at other schools in the area.  This is the third year of research and implementation of this filtration system and this year the team seems to have come close to perfecting the system itself. The variable that remains is the question of how well and rigorously the filter will be maintained by the locals.  The desire for clean potable water in the area would suggest the necessary incentive.  Particularly when (like this year) the drinking water is brown, what the locals refer to as chocolate water.

Friday, June 15, 2012


In week four the delays piled up, our team became smaller, yet we managed to get a fair amount accomplished once the materials did arrive to the site.  We poured a bond beam which was already formed, poured two slabs (one on grade and one as a ceiling), two retaining walls, poured the Second tier columns, and laid the brick foundation for the closet. We have begun to work long days (sometimes completing a pour before breakfast) due in part to losing a week because of delays.  The weather continues to be extreme.  Sometimes extremely hot and the mosquitoes continue to be crazy.  This has become somewhat stressful but all in all the quality and work ethic of the 2012 build crew has shown, literally working through the madness to prevail and hammer out lots of work in week four. 

(TOP) We decided to hitch a ride on the back of a materials truck to get from Pocone to the site (3.5 hour drive).  The truck broke down and we spent 6 hours on the side of the road waiting for a mechanic and getting back on the road.

(BOT) The second load of material was sent on a truck that would get stuck at the site and therefore the drive had to dump the sand on top of the gravel.  This was a problem and a fair amount of added labor to sort the sand and gravel.

While I install reinforcement for what is to be a cast in place concrete ceiling Alli and Chris fabricate the cages for the second tier bond beam.  After pouring the Tier one bond be we removed the formwork which we will reuse for the third time to pour the Second tier columns. The bond beam looks great.

While we were waiting for the bond beam to cure to a more solid state the team worked on foundations and retaining walls that would allow us to stage filtration components at different elevations so gravity can move water from station to station.  A foundation for the closet is also integrated into the larger system.  Some pipes are installed in the foundation to allow for us to fish electrical wiring through for the solar pump and float switches which will be installed in a couple weeks.

In one bay of the water tower there will be an enclosed closet at the ground floor.  We have installed a mix of #3 and 4.2 mm rebar as a mesh reinforcement.  I have woven it together in an attempt to create what would be considered a welded wire mesh and have attached the mesh to the bond beam cages prior to pouring the bond beam.  Here we are forming the slab to be poured.

The concrete slab that will act as a ceiling for the closet below and a staging area to service the solar panel is complete.

After allowing for the bond beam and ceiling slab to set we set up the form work which will be used for a third time for the second tier columns which are two meters tall.  Because we can not stake braces to the ground, each column is braced to another to establish square and plumb.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Week three included mainly the installation of the bond beam cages and formwork which has taken some time, in part because a critical team member Allister has departed and headed back to the states. Along with the construction of the bond beam, Jim and Julie have been testing a submersible solar powered pump that will pull water from the 10m deep well to two 2500L-holding tanks.  Jim and Ethan are also working on a remote cellular amplification internet system designed by E-magine.

Due to a string of bad weather and rainfall our schedule is beginning to get a bit tight.  Heavy rains and thunderstorms have made the dirt road virtually impassable and our materials are a week behind schedule for delivery.  We are able to keep busy regardless of the rain but are in need of material to complete the water tower. 

Prior to my arrival to the Pantanal this year, I have been on the receiving end of bird feces two times.  I have been crapped on three times in the three weeks that I have been here; on the shoulder, wrist, and head.  I am also putting forth that on one of these incidents I was targeted by one of the world’s most endangered birds, the Hyacinth Macaw.

Jim and I have also taken time to do some work on the school by organizing wiring for the solar panel system, adjusting doors, and hanging plumbing fixtures.  

Currently we have our bond beam cages in place and the form work installed.  We are waiting on a material delivery to stub out rebar for a concrete ceiling slab and then we can pour the bond beam in one shot, leaving the ceiling to be formed and poured afterward.

Our set up consists of scaffolding to build and pour the bond beam with extensions that allow for continued stirrup and cage fabrication.

Here we are testing a remote internet signal amplification system.  In the weeks to come I will post the variety of technologies that are functioning on the site.  Still working on a couple of them.

Milton (instrumental in keeping us generally happy) and Julie cooking.  Also shown here is Celso who is our neighbor to the north and some maxixe (like a cucumber) picked from the garden he is standing in. 

The evening before our drive to Pocone to pick up Mercedes: Julie, Chris, and Allie picked fresh limes from a near by tree.  Julie made caipirinha's with the limes, sugar, and cachaca.  During our drive up the Transpantaniera Highway we encountered an old fashioned cattle drive which is common along this route.


During week two we installed all of the column formwork that was fabricated by Chris and Allister, while Jim, Alli, and Julie continued to assemble the cages for the bond beam.  By weeks end we poured all of the concrete columns, removed the formwork, and have begun to install the cages for the bond beams.  We have also dug a big hole to house a 5000L tank that will hold filtered water prior to pumping it up to elevated tanks that will then gravity feed the water to the lodge and school.  The filtration system is intended to remove much of the iron that is heavy in the existing water.  Testing for potable water within this system will begin in a couple of weeks.  Otherwise, a team of engineers is working on sustainable bio sand filtration systems. 

In 2010 I blogged a detailed description of the form build.  What follows is a more comprehensive detailing of the cage build.  

Rebar comes in 12m lengths.  A #4 equivalent will be used for bond beams and a #3 equivalent will be used for columns.

I found this piece of aluminum angle that we use with a simple jig to fabricate the stirrups that make the cage that reinforce the concrete columns and bond beams. Notches are cut in at two points as a pass through when fabricating the stirrups.  Two notches are needed because two dimensionally different stirrups are being fabricated.  One size for the column and a different size for the bond beam so they and intersect easily.

Stirrup fabrication is a production process.

The knot that ties the stirrup to the leg is critical for square and integrity while erecting the cage.

Chris assembling cages for bond beams.  This is a typical procedure, one which we were introduced to in 2010 for the school build.

Cage type that will be used for columns and bond beams.  Some engineering was established prior to our departure which governs some of the sizing and spacing of the cage build.
Although there are jaguars, tapers, cayman, otters, and ant eaters to name a few, it is the birds that I most enjoy in the Pantanal.


Upon arrival to Cuiaba we were a pack of 13 people who are trying to make our way somewhat deep into the Pantanal Wetlands.  This proved to be a challenge.  The Combie (VW bus) broke down on multiple occasions, including one incident when Ethan and I repaired a rear strut with the removable housing on a multi tip screwdriver.  We repaired the strut twice on our way to the site.  The dirt road and its bridges are in poor condition which makes the trek that much more destructive.

This year I have arrived a month earlier than in 2010 and it is a bit wetter with much more mosquitoes. A dry summer has left the area with water sources that have larger amounts of iron in it, turning it a brownish color.  It has become clear that the lodge, school, and house, have had little upkeep over the summer and now are showing the signs of this environment leaving them somewhat beat down.   

It is clear during week one that the build team is roaring and ready to go and by weeks end it is clear that this crew is competent as well.  We moved fast through the excavation, cage build and the form build and stood our cages by weeks end.

As has historically been the case some site conditions and decisions have arisen that have led us to choose a different site and program for the prospective water tower.  We will be design building on the fly with some schematic engineering notes that Julie worked up prior to our arrival. We are currently working on one water tower that houses two supply tanks that will receive water through a filtration system that includes, a settling tank, gravel + sand + charcoal filters, and a holding tank.  Water will be supplied from a near by well that is pumped up via solar power and will gravity feed through the system in two stages. To my dismay but not surprise my design will not be built and we will in turn focus on a simple quick build and give some more attention to the school/research facility that we constructed in 2010.
Once we arrived at the site of construction we got right to work.  Digging footings, metal work, and building reinforcing cages for the concrete columns. 

The Transpanteniera (dirt road) that leads to the site has many bridges, this one under construction.  Unusual rains have left the road impassable at times slowing the process of material and people transport.
Food consists largely of rice and beans and with the help of Milton, the cook/keeper of the lodge, there are often additional elements to round off the panteniero cuisine.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day two entailed replacing two of the tires on the "Combi" - VW Bus (top) that PCER had purchased in 2011, a quick interview with Channel 7 (mid) news, and the bio-sand filtration team (bot) headed down the Transpantaniera to the initial site where we had build the school in 2010.  The "BUILD Team" hit the town and finished gathering materials necessary to construct the concrete structural frame and accomplished other miscellaneous tasks necessary to get this ball rolling.  We will be headed to the site tomorrow.  A fairly efficient beginning to the summers mission.

Day 1 + Transit was not without adventure.  The top image is prior to our first attempt at landing in Cuiaba, Br and the lower image is our final descent on the second try.  Upon our initial descent into Cuiaba it was clear to Chris and I that we were attempting a landing into fields of farmland.  We were very low and literally, 5 seconds after Chris said to me "it looks like we are landing into nothing" the plane jerked upward and aborted.  At that point we flew in a direction that was not a circle and seemed as if we were attempting our final descent at a totally different location.  But we are all here safe with most of our luggage and operating in Pocone,Br for the time being.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Design Proposal 2012

PCER will add an energy independent gravity fed water supply to the school and remote internet technologies developed at the University of Michigan to prepare to expand the educational program to rural healthcare accommodations.  The above design is one of two that will be constructed with the second still in design development.  

Where We Are

By the end of summer 2010 much of the school construction was complete and 2011 operations included perfecting the bio-sand filter and implementing an anaerobic digester.  The Pantanal Center for Education will be expanding its footprint and technological endeavors this summer 2012 and I am excited to be partnered with the team and two local pedreiros (masons) for our second architectural design + build.