Biofuel key to Embraer emissions strategy

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Embraer has centralised and strengthened its environmental protection efforts, including new plans to fly a biofuel-powered jet, to audit industrial emissions and make reductions and to search for advances in turbofan and turboprop engines.

The initiatives will be co-ordinated for the first time by a centralised environmental strategies and technologies office headed by Graciliano Campos. She will report to Satoshi Yokota, executive vice-president of strategic planning and technology development.

"We realised we needed a central co-ordinator for all these efforts," Yokota says, adding that previously "material communication between all these areas was not a formal process".

Aircraft manufacturers are under pressure to step up efforts to reduce the industry's environmental impact due to concerns about both global warming and rising fuel costs.

Embraer believes that converting airliners to biofuels can have the swiftest impact on overall emissions. The transfer to biofuels could achieve a 15% reduction in specific fuel consumption within five to 10 years, while the industry waits for the next leap in engine and airframe technology to emerge at the end of the next decade.

The company will soon demonstrate the feasibility of biofuel derived from native plants, such as palm leaves, coconut oil or castor oil, Yokota says.

The aircraft platform used for the demonstration will remain undecided until the availability of the biofuel source is confirmed around the middle of 2008. Whether the aircraft is a business jet or an E-jet will be based solely on which aircraft is available when the biofuel supply is delivered, he says.

In 2004, Embraer certificated the piston-powered Ipanema to fly using ethanol, but last year rejected concepts to convert turbine engines to mixed alcohol- and kerosene-based fuel mixtures, Yokota says.

Embraer expects to wait several years before unveiling a new commercial airliner, but is investigating next-generation engine concepts, including Pratt & Whitney's geared turbofan, as well as unducted fan or open rotor concepts, Yokota says, adding that the company is also interested in advanced turboprop designs.

Separately, Embraer plans to complete an audit in December to fully account for the company's industrial carbon emission footprint. The audit will help the company decide potential reduction targets, including the feasibility of eliminating all emissions from the manufacturing process.