BRAZIL: Researchers advance in using ethanol to produce fuel for space rockets

Published: 04/21/2017, 3:06:33 PM

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) developed a cleaner, lower cost and higher performance fuel for space rockets that uses ethanol in its composition, reports Sugaronline.

The development of the new fuel is part of INPE's research performed at Brazil's Associated Laboratory of Combustion and Propulsion (LCP). 

"Ethanol has been consolidating in the composition of space fuel since 2011, when the Institute of Aeronautics and Space (IAE) started the development of an engine based on a combination of biofuel and liquid oxygen," said Alfred Szwarc, a consultant on Emissions and Technology at UNICA, in a statement.

"The project was successful with the launch, in 2014, of the first Brazilian rocket equipped with this technology. Now, in this new initiative by INPE, ethanol appears once again as a renewable and high-performance source." 

According to INPE, the new fuel results from a mixture of two organic compounds: ethanol and ethanolamine. When they react with hydrogen peroxide a spontaneous combustion is created without the need to use other external activation sources.

"We found that ethanol works very well in this reaction because it increases engine performance and reduces costs. The decomposition of peroxide at 90% greatly increases the system temperature, which facilitates the ignition of the engine," said Ricardo Vieira, head of the LCP.

Reduced cost of production and environmental benefits are the main advantages of the new Brazilian fuel in relation to competitors used on large scale by the space industry.

Hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, two of the most widely used propellants in the world, are expensive. A kilo of each of them can be worth, in average, BRL1,000 (US$316). They can also contaminate the air, and have carcinogenic potential.

The fuel developed in Brazil's LPC costs approximately BRL35 (US$11.08) per kilo and is not pollutant, according to UNICA.