To really move the needle on Chile’s energy consumption, Mainstream Renewable Power is thinking big: a US$1.8 billion project to build seven wind farms and three photovoltaic solar farms across the country. One of the largest renewable energy initiatives in Latin America, it could supply 1.3 gigawatts of clean power, enough to meet the needs of 20 percent of Chilean households, when all the pieces go fully operational as early as 2022. That could mean a significant advance toward Chile’s ambitious 2050 carbon neutrality target.
15th Most Influential Project of 2021
A coalition of nonprofits are joining forces to restore the spectacular array of biodiversity of one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites—which will also serve to bolster the economy through ecotourism. Fueled by a US$43 million pledge from movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, the project includes restoring Floreana Island, home to 54 threatened species. A project led by Re:wild, Galápagos National Park Directorate and Island Conservation, along with local communities, plans to reintroduce 13 locally extinct species (including the Floreana mockingbird, the first mockingbird described by Charles Darwin). The project also includes plans to establish a captive breeding program to prevent the extinction of the pink iguana. It aims to strengthen measures that protect marine resources and improve ecotourism, a critical component of the Galápagos and Ecuadorian economy.
37th Most Influential Project of 2021
Already dubbed “the Panama Canal on railroad tracks,” the US$10 billion Bi-Oceanic Railway Integration Corridor aims to link 3,750 kilometers (2,330 miles) of track across South America. Stretching across Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, and possibly Paraguay, the line would mean a speedier connection between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. And that, proponents say, could boost trade and create jobs. Yet while there’s been much buzz about the “region’s biggest infrastructure project,” there hasn’t been much action. Can it get back on track? In March, Argentinian government leaders announced plans would be moving forward, with China Machinery Engineering Corp. delivering some of the project funding.
In the El Zonte village of El Salvador (population 3,000), most residents are unbanked and most businesses are not equipped to take credit cards. But at least half of the people in the coastal community have smartphones, which made it an ideal proving ground for an anonymous donor who wanted to create a parallel economy based on bitcoin. Bitcoin Beach has been going strong since 2019, but the team decided to build an app last year. With the new wallet feature, users can see how much they hold in Bitcoin and U.S. dollars and where they can spend it. In September, El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, though the rollout—met by protests—was not as smooth as on Bitcoin Beach.
Favelas don’t come with a grand design. These complex, low-income urban settlements morph over time, as inhabitants add to, adapt and transform the built environment around them. That often makes them impervious to traditional mapping technologies and “devoid of urban rights.” To create a blueprint of sorts for Rocinha—Brazil’s largest favela—researchers at MIT Senseable City Lab partnered with the city planning commissioner of Rio de Janeiro. Team members walked the favela on foot, using handheld 3D-scanning technology to capture intricate, location-specific data. Armed with that information, researchers plan to assess everything from the density of informal infrastructure to how favelas might further evolve in the future.
NotCo already had a big hit with its milk substitute on its home turf in Latin America. And that attracted the attention of Jeff Bezos, who brokered a deal to bring NotMilk to the United States. That might have turned into a major supply chain issue—growing all the soy and nuts required for a traditional plant-based pour could overwhelm Latin American ecosystems. But that’s not how the Chilean food tech company operates. Instead, it relies on its proprietary AI program, called Giuseppe, which came up with the recipe to turn cabbage, peas and pineapple into NotMilk. After expanding the brand across Latin America, the Bezos-backed company officially launched its project to head into the U.S. market. In early 2020, it opened offices on both coasts and recruited a slate of industry vets to develop its go-to-market strategy. Then came the call from Whole Foods Market—whose parent company is Amazon—which began rolling the product out to 450 of its stores in November 2020. The new goal for NotCo? 8,000 U.S. retail outlets by yearend.
Scientists from National Geographic Society collaborated with Chile’s Ministry of Public Works for a trek to the top of Tupungato, a dormant volcano near the Chile-Argentina border. This was no pleasure stroll, however. Indeed, they battled major winter storms to install a weather station—the highest in the Southern and Western Hemispheres. Positioned here, at an altitude of over 6,500 meters (21,325 feet) in the southern Andes, the instruments will relay temperature, wind speed and snow depth data to help researchers understand the region’s historic drought and predict the future of its threatened mountain water supplies.
Fraud and financing challenges have long thwarted growth in the secondhand car market across Latin America. Mexican startup Kavak aims to change that, with its digital marketplace that assesses cars, values them with proprietary algorithms, and refurbishes them for resale with financing options and a three-month warranty. Backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group, Kavak in October 2020 became the first Mexican unicorn. Now operating in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, Kavak raised an additional US$700 million in September. Such new investments help to fund a project to build a mega vehicle reconditioning center in Brazil as part of an aggressive growth strategy the company says will create more than 1,000 jobs in 2021 and strengthen the country’s automotive sector.
While some companies struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, Brazilian startup MadeiraMadeira made a big splash. Sales on the Brazilian home products and renovation marketplace soared 100 percent in the past year as consumers shifted to online shopping. Backed by SoftBank Group and Dynamo’s US$190 million investment, MadeiraMadeira greenlit a portfolio investment in building brick-and-mortar showcases, where customers can shop IRL and order online with ease. The company also completed a project to develop its first original brand of some 400 items. CabeCasa was unveiled in June to much fanfare—locals perhaps celebrating the rise of a homegrown alternative to global home competitors.
The building—erected in the 1800s as a posh hotel—sat abandoned for decades, its elegant architecture overgrown by local vegetation. But the project site—in the heart of an emerging digital district in Manaus, Brazil— could not be beat. So rather than raze the building in favor of some bland new box, local firm Laurent Troost Architectures set out to preserve the structure’s past while creating a future-ready space for local innovators. A prefabricated steel system allowed the team to recreate the interior without anchoring it to the building’s double-glazed facade, while a glazed volume atop the roof allowed natural light (but no water) to flood the space. The result is a striking, headline-grabbing building that manages to showcase both the site’s rich history and future ambitions.