Bio-jet fuel is being tested; Biofuel Revolution Reaches Airline Industry

Airplanes have a useful lifespan of 30 to 40 years, and their manufacturers want to ensure they have fuel until the end, chemical engineer Expedito Parente explains to Tierramérica. Three decades ago, he invented biodiesel and biokerosene, both refined...

In addition to the environment, biofuel has a social mission, because it should improve rural living conditions, 'valuing the human being'; and strategic, preparing the way for the 'solar era', which he predicts will succeed the petroleum era.

At 67, Parente has rekindled his enthusiasm, announcing the May 2008 inauguration of the first 'semi-industrial' plant for refining oil from the babaçú palm (Orbignya phalerata martins), abundant across 18 million hectares in the Northeast and the eastern Amazon, and the opening of a landmark biokerosene research centre.

Strong production is essential, because a jet airplane needs at least 10,000 litres of fuel to take off, he says. Lauric oil, produced by palms, is the raw material of his plant-based jet fuel. 'There is another alternative source,' but still requires much study and is 'a secret to be kept for now,' he adds.

The aeronautics industry is faced with a unique situation -- environmental pressures and the 'end of petroleum' -- which requires strong investment in biofuels, the only alternative that seems viable, according to Delcio Rodrigues, energy expert with Vitae Civilis, a non-governmental organisation that is active on the climate change problem.

Air transport is a fast-growing industry and is the target of numerous reports on greenhouse gas emissions. But replacing fossil-fuel kerosene is difficult, because airplanes need fuels 'of great energy intensity' to be able to travel long distances without increasing the weight being transported, Rodrigues explained to Tierramérica.

Alternatives like the ethanol now being used in cars won't work, because it has a higher consumption rate by volume than gasoline, he said.

But in Brazil, the agricultural airplane, the Ipanema, does fly on fuel alcohol. The model created by Embraer, the national aeronautics company and one of the leading manufacturers of light and medium aircraft, was the first certified to consume ethanol, in 2004. But the crop-duster plane is small and does not travel the long distances that commercial flights do. © 2007 NoticiasFinancieras - IPS - All rights reserved

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