Brazil launches alcohol powered plane

Publish date: April 8, 2005

Agence France-Presse English Wire via NewsEdge Corporation informed that in March a Brazilian firm delivered the world's first ethanol-burning production aircraft to a crop-spraying company and it sees a booming market for alcohol powered planes.

The single-seat EMB 202 Ipanema is the first production-series model approved by aviation authorities to run on ethanol produced from sugar cane. Its makers, Neiva Aeronautic Industry, said it had orders for 70 of the single-engine planes this year. The Ipanema is a new step forward for Brazil’s pioneering national ethanol fuel program, launched in response to the 1970s oil crisis. Drawing on its world-leading sugar cane production to produce the alternative to petroleum-based gasoline, by the 1980s ethanol was the dominant fuel for automobiles.

Today, under a flexibility program, roughly a third of all cars sold are adapted to use both ethanol and regular gasoline. “Ethanol fuel is less polluting than gasoline, is renewable, and is about five times less expensive than gasoline,” said Neiva director Acir Padilha Junior. Already 300 to 400 small aircraft in Brazil fly on ethanol, but most are adapted from using aviation gasoline and are not certified for commercial production. The sale of the ethanol Ipanema came as Neiva, which is based at Botucatu, northwest of Sao Paulo, celebrated the production of its 1,000th unit of the model, which it has produced mostly for farm use for more than 30 years. Neiva is a subsidiary of Embraer, the world’s fourth largest aircraft maker, which produces commercial, corporate and military jets and other aircraft.

At 247,000 dollars, the ethanol version of the Ipanema costs 14,000 dollars more than one that burns regular aviation fuel. But the savings on fuel costs can be substantial. One liter (0.26 gallon) of ethanol in Brazil costs 0.44 dollars, while a liter of gasoline runs 1.85 dollars. In addition, Padilha said, the ethanol version is more durable and seven percent more powerful than the gasoline version. “It reduces the costs of production,” he said. As it pushes to conserve petroleum-based fuels, the Brazilian government sees a large market for ethanol in Brazil’s 14,000-strong aircraft fleet.

The country hopes to equip all small single and twin-engine aircraft with ethanol-burning capability, according to Paulo Sergio Edwald, an engineer of the national civil aviation regulator Centro Tecnico Aeroespacial. For Neiva, the primary target is adapting the hundreds of Ipanemas already flying around the country, and they have already received over 100 conversion orders.

Neiva also hopes to convert the 150 six-passenger Sertanejo and Minuano aircraft in the country, which have engines similar to the Ipanema’s. Brazil has the world’s second largest fleet of small planes, with 14,000, just behind the United States. The American firm Textron Lycoming makes the IO-540 engine for the Ipanema.