A plane case of running on high spirits

Light aircraft powered by alcohol are being developed as an alternative to oil by a Brazilian aerospace company.

Industria Aeronautica Neiva claims the declining global economy and threat of war in the Middle East makes alcohol an attractive proposition, especially since running the alcohol plane would cost about three times less than normal.

The company has developed its own version of the ‘Ipanema’ crop duster plane, which it expects the aviation authorities to certify by 2004. Engine conversions would follow a basic two-step process. The first stage would concentrate on adapting the fuel injection system for different quantities and pressures.

Various plane parts, such as the tanks, would be replaced with alternatives made from non-corroding materials to resist the effect of the alcohol. In the second stage, the compression ratio and sparking pattern would be adjusted to accommodate for the different properties of alcohol.

Though denser than kerosene, alcohol carries 40 per cent less energy per litre, so more is needed to run the engine. This would be slightly offset by a small increase in power in the engine; the overall weight carried by the aircraft would increase by 30 per cent.

More than half of Brazil’s 1,000 crop dusters are of the original Ipanema design, said Neiva’s managing director, Paulo Urbanavicius. Brazil has already embraced alcohol as an alternative fuel for road transport, and the requisite infrastructure is already in place.