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The Ethanol Powered Plane
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During last week’s trip to Brazil, I was introduced to one of the lesser known members of the Embraer family: The EMB-202A Ipanema.

This awkward looking green-painted crop duster is a 40 year-old design with a 21st century fuel tank. Over 1000 of these aircraft have been built since 1973. What makes the Ipanema so special? It runs on hydrated ethyl alcohol fuel, better known as ethanol. Or as it’s known in Brazil as homegrown 100% Alcool.

The fuel, which is derived from natively grown sugar cane, is converted into alcohol. In a world where oil is well above the $100 barrel mark, sugar cane based ethanol is two to three times cheaper than 100 octane LL avgas. Ethanol, unlike 100LL, has a lower CO2 output and no lead content. The increased oxygen content of the fuel even gives a 7% horsepower boost.

There are downsides though. First, the 4% water content increases maintenance costs due to risk of corrosion in the fuel system. Also, the fuel has less energy content by volume so the useful range would be less on the same tank of 100 octane low lead avgas. Yet, even with the increased risk to the fuel system, according to Embraer, the Ipanema has delivered a 38% reduction in direct operating cost by running on ethanol.

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Posted Thu, Mar 13 2008 9:00 PM by Flightblogger | Report Abuse
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