April 16, 2012

Ethanol Makes Inroads as Aviation Fuel

Brazilian motorists already are major uses of ethanol in their vehicles and now ethanol is making significant inroads into the aviation fuel used for agricultural aircraft. The Brazilian airplane manufacturer, Embraer, started experimenting with ethanol in 2004 and in January of 2012, sales of its popular Ipanema model reached 1,200 units and 30% of those aircraft use ethanol as their fuel source. According to the National Syndicate of Agricultural Aircraft Industries (Sindag), 80% of the 1,500 agricultural aircraft in Brazil are the Ipanema model and 30% of those use ethanol-based fuel

The cost savings by using ethanol in agricultural aircraft can be very significant. In Rio Grande do Sul for example where there are approximately 260 agricultural aircraft, owners can purchase ethanol for approximately R$ 1.50 per liter compared to R$ 3.80 per liter for regular aviation fuel. The owners also attest to the fact that when they use ethanol fuel the engine produces 20% more power, the plane flies faster, pollutes less, and has a reduced risk of fires. An owner of three Ipanema aircraft stated that he saves enough on fuel per year to buy a new pickup truck. An ethanol powered aircraft cost a little more to purchase, but the difference is made up almost immediately in cost savings. The Ipanema ethanol aircraft cost R$ 728,000 while the gasoline model costs R$ 718,000.

The idea of using ethanol-based fuel in larger aircraft has not been overlooked. Embraer, Boeing, and Airbus have joined together to conduct research using ethanol-based aviation fuel for their larger aircraft. While aviation accounts for only about 2% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, the use of ethanol can reduce those emissions as well as being more economical and a cost saving for the industry. Embraer in conjunction with General Electric and Azul Airline will conduct experimental flights using ethanol-based fuel in General Electric engines.

Embraer along with Boeing and Fapesp (a Sao Paulo research organization) will conduct a series of workshops during 2012 for airline companies explaining the production and distribution of ethanol-based aviation fuel and the opportunities for using the ethanol-based fuel as an alternative to regular aviation fuel. They hope to convince airlines that ethanol not only saves money, it can also be promoted as a "green fuel".