FAPESP, Boeing and Embraer begin a study on the development of biofuels for aviation
May 16, 2012
By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – On April 25, representatives of FAPESP, Boeing and Embraer began studies on the main scientific, technological, social and economic challenges for the development and adoption of biofuel for the commercial and executive aviation sector.
Slated to last 9 to 12 months, the study will be guided by a series of eight workshops held throughout 2012 for data collection with researchers, members of the biofuel production chain, representatives of the aviation sector and the government. The first workshop was held at FAPESP’s headquarters and Espaço Ágape from April 25 to 26 in São Paulo.
After the study, FAPESP, Boeing and Embraer will conduct a joint research project on the topics highlighted as priorities by the study and will launch a call for proposals for implementation of a biofuel research and development center for commercial aviation involving the three institutions. The proposed center will be based on the model used for FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (CEPIDs).
The research project is part of an agreement signed by the three institutions in October 2011. The agreement is also part of the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN), which brings together more than 300 Brazilian scientists, the majority of whom are at São Paulo State research institutions and universities, plus 60 researchers from several countries.
The program has five research lines: “Biomass for bioenergy” (focused on sugarcane), “The biofuel manufacturing process,” “Biorefineries and alcohol chemistry,” “Ethanol applications for automotive engine: internal combustion and fuel cell engines” and “Research on sustainability and socioeconomic, environmental and land use impacts.”
“The opportunity brought to us by Boeing and Embraer fit very well into the research lines of the BIOEN Program and FAPESP’s agenda to develop cooperative research, stimulating and creating conditions for universities and research institutions to work in collaboration with companies that offer significant and complex scientific challenges for the researchers that we have in São Paulo States,” said the FAPESP Scientific Director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, at the opening of the first workshop.
The aviation sector, which accounts for 2% of the planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions, is facing the challenge of cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2050 in comparison to 2005 levels and becoming carbon neutral by 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
To reach these emission control goals in the midst of a scenario of strong expansion in air transport worldwide, one of the alternatives that is being evaluated by the sector is thte utilization of biofuels that can be mixed with kerosene at a 50:50 proportion, with modifications to the turbines in the current aircraft fleet and the aeronautics fuel distribution system. For the time being, however, scientists have not yet developed a biofuel that can be produced on a commercial scale at a competitive cost.
“We still don’t have an idea of when we will have biofuels produced on a commercial scale that can be used globally in aviation, and we do not foresee complete replacement of fossil fuel with biofuels in aviation any time in the near future,” says Mauro Kern, executive vice president of engineering and technology at Embraer.
“The efforts underway in Brazil and spearheaded by FAPESP, which is organizing companies, research institutions and governmental and non-governmental bodies, have the potential to make a very significant contribution to projects that are being conducted around the globe for the development of biofuel for aviation,” evaluates Kern.
According to a sector specialist present at the event, although there are already biofuels produced abroad based on different types of biomass that have obtained certification to be used in aviation and are being used in test and commercial flights, they are still not being produced on a large scale and can be as much as 100% more expensive than aviation kerosene.
Based on the Brazilian experience of ethanol production, which is not an ideal fuel for aviation, the institutions involved in the project intend to make a technological leap that will facilitate the development of a commercially feasible biofuel, based on the study of raw materials other than sugarcane and on diverse technological methods.
“The major advantage of conducting this type of research in Brazil is that the country has experience using sugarcane as a renewable fuel source. We can learn and utilize this experience for applications in the aviation area,” affirms Donna Hrinak, president of Boeing Brasil.
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