Consortium to study biojet fuel in Brazil

By Bryan Sims | November 17, 2010
Posted Dec. 8, 2010

TAM Airlines, Curcas Diesel Brasil and Brazil Ecodiesel have formed a collaborative alliance to conduct feasibility studies for an integrated project to produce sustainable biokerosene jet fuel in Brazil. The joint effort has the support of aircraft maker Airbus and Air BP, BP's aviation fuel distribution division.

The group intends to use diverse sources of biomass with a particular focus on jatropha produced by family farms and large plantations in Brazil. TAM Airlines is implementing a jatropha placement trail in an area of 4.35 hectares (approximately 11 acres) with the purpose of assessing the sustainability of different production models in order to identify the best techniques and genetic material. The land represents less than 1 percent of the total farm in Sao Carlos, Brazil, where TAM's Technology Center is located. The sustainability studies will be sponsored by Airbus and will be conducted at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

"We're working with big companies in the aviation and the biofuels segments to develop a fully integrated value chain in Brazil, from plant sciences and feedstock development to the distribution of the fuel at the airports," said Rafael Abud, CEO of Curcas Diesel Brasil. "In this initial phase, we will conduct the studies necessary to verify sustainability and economic viability of producing biokerosene. We expect to start commercial production by 2013."

In November, TAM Airlines, together with Airbus, successfully performed the first jatropha-based biofuel flight in Latin America, using an Airbus A320. TAM Airlines acquired jatropha seeds from farms in the North, Southeast and Center-East of Brazil from Curcas Diesel Brasil. UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, produced the biofuel, which consisted of a 50 percent mix of locally-sourced Brazilian jatropha-based biokerosene and conventional aviation fuel.

The consortium is optimistic about producing biojet fuel in Brazil, according to Jose Carlos Aguilera, CEO of Brazil Ecodiesel. "The biokerosene market is a reality and holds a significant growth potential since the European Union included aviation as an important element for global carbon emission reductions," he said. "Our participation in this pioneering project, besides being aligned with our plans to diversify our biofuel portfolio, is in line with our technological evolution plans."

As part of its ongoing commitment to ensure that air travel continues to be one of the most ecoefficient means of transportation, Airbus has developed a roadmap working towards making alternative fuel and biofuel technology a reality for aviation. In addition to its efforts with TAM Airlines, in February 2008, an Airbus A380 aircraft successfully completed the first ever flight by a commercial aircraft using gas-to-liquid fuel and, in October 2009, Airbus and Qatar Airways undertook the first commercial flight of 50 percent blended GTL fuel.

"Airbus is bringing together farmers, oil refiners and airlines to speed up the commercialization of sustainable biofuel production in Brazil and worldwide," said Paul Nash, Airbus head of New Energies. "As well as analyzing the suitability of potential biofuels for aviation, Airbus is also supporting life cycle and sustainability analysis to ensure that any carbon dioxide emissions solutions don't impact socially or compete for land, food or water."

TAM Airlines Energy Manager Paulus Figueiredo explained, "The feasibility studies of the entire value chain will be essential to analyze the environmental, social and economic impacts of the commercialization and expansion of biokerosene in Brazil. As well as the environmental benefits to be confirmed by the studies, there is the possibility of obtaining real emissions trading scheme costs savings, given that airlines flying into Europe will have to acquire allowances for the carbon dioxide emissions guaranteed in these operations."

Biokerosene is in advanced stage of approval by ASTM standards in the U.S. to be used blended up to 50 percent with regular aviation fuel in commercial flights. The Brazilian Alliance for Aviation Biofuels is in contact with federal government and sector agencies to establish a regulatory mark for biokerosene.
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