Brazil's TAM plans biofuels demonstration flight

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Brazil's TAM has unveiled plans to hold a biofuels demonstration flight later this year.

The carrier says that it plans to trial a biofuels mixture which includes biomass derived from the Jatropha plant on a CFM56-powered Airbus A320. The flight is scheduled for the second half of 2010.

TAM CEO Libano Barroso says the biomass to be used in the trial is 100% Brazilian and comes from "large farms in the hinterlands of Brazil devoted to the pioneer cultivation of the Jatropha". TAM says it has "already ensured the availability of this aviation biofuel for the demonstration flight" and a sufficient quantity of Jatropha seeds has been purchased from the Brazilian Association of Jatropha Producers (ABPPM).

TAM, which is due to enter the Star Alliance later this month, says its trial will be the first biofuels demonstration flight in Latin America. Mexico's Interjet was originally planning to hold Latin America's first biofuels demonstration flight. But the carrier, which initially scheduled its trial for early 2010, has had to postpone the flight until at least 2011 after it was unable to secure enough salicornia from Mexican farms to support the flight.

TAM is working with Airbus, CFM International and Honeywell subsidiary UOP - three companies which are also involved in the Interjet project. TAM says UOP will process the Jatropha oil into bio-kerosene and mix it with conventional aviation fuel in a 50/50 ratio.

TAM says as part of a joint effort with ABPPM it plans to study how Jatrophra can be produced in Brazil on a commercial scale, "with an eye on transforming it into aviation biofuel". According to ABPPM surveys there are now 60,000ha (148,262 acres) of Jatropha plantations in Brazil. About one million hectares would be needed to ensure sufficient commercial production.

Airbus head of New Energies Paul Nash says the manufacturer is studying several types of alternative fuels throughout the world, including Jatropha in Brazil, because it believes "there will be different solutions for different parts of the world".

"Any solution should be commercially viable and sustainable with no impact on people, land, food nor water, and should involve local jobs for local people," Nash adds. "We call this the value chain, and this TAM initiative with Airbus is another step in this direction."

TAM says studies carried out by Michigan Technological University in conjunction with UOP show aviation biofuels made from Jatropha can achieve a 65% to 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional aviation fuel.