Embraer Plans Net Zero Carbon Path with New Energia Family

 - November 8, 2021, 11:21 AM
Embraer's proposed Energia family of aircraft would reduced carbon, or carbon zero, ways to provide flights of up to 500 nm, carrying between 9 and 50 passengers. (Image: Embraer)

Embraer today unveiled concepts for a family of nine- to 50-seat aircraft with a mix of hybrid, hydrogen, dual-fuel gas turbine, and electric propulsion systems. The Energia aircraft, which may enter service between 2030 and 2040, would offer ranges of up to around 500 nm.

In a live webcast from its Sao Jose dos Campos headquarters, the Brazilian airframer announced what it billed as a major renewable energy initiative as part of its overall goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Embraer Commercial Aviation president Arjan Meijer said that some, if not all, of the concepts, will be brought to market with full program launches expected within five to 10 years based on a consultation process with prospective aircraft operators, which is beginning now.

The first concept is the hybrid-electric Energia Hybrid (designated for now as the E9-HE), which will have nine passenger seats and be ready for service entry in 2030. The propulsion system will consist of a piston engine plus a pair of electric motors that are used for takeoff and climb phases of flight.

The E9-HE will have a range of up to 500 nm. According to Luis Carlos Affonso, vice president of engineering, technology, and corporate strategy, it will produce as much as 90 percent lower carbon dioxide than current aircraft if burning sustainable aviation fuel, or 50 percent lower if using jet-A fuel. He said that the rear fuselage mounting of the motors will deliver a 60 percent reduction in noise levels.

Embraer says it could have the all-electric E9-FE model certified by 2035. With aft-mounted contra-rotating propellers, this would also seat nine passengers, but with a reduced range of 200 nm.

Hydrogen is also a major component of Embraer’s prospective Energia product offering, starting with the 19-seat E19-H2FC model, which will use fuel cells to power a pair of rear-mounted electric motors. With a 200-nm range, it is projected to be ready to start commercial operations in 2035, which is when rival Airbus intends to introduce its larger hydrogen-powered narrowbodies.

By 2040, Embraer aims to introduce the E50-H2GT, which would entail either hydrogen or SAF/jet-A directly powering a gas turbine powerplant. This would seat between 35 and 50 passengers, with a projected range of 350 to 500 nm.

“The [air transport] industry only has one road ahead and that’s towards sustainable aviation,” declared Embraer’s marketing vice president for commercial aircraft, Rodrigo Silva e Souza, announcing the Energia concepts during the United Nations COP26 climate change conference.

Embraer believes its new family of aircraft can capitalize on a “regionalization” trend that it says is seeing people and organization relocate from major cities, necessitating improved, short-haul transportation links. It says that new propulsion and digital technology means that smaller aircraft, like the Energia range, can be more economically viable.

The company believes that the so-called regional air mobility (RAM) trend will complement the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) sector for which its Eve subsidiary is developing a four-passenger all-electric eVTOL aircraft to be ready to enter service in 2026. Meijer said that the expanded scope of the new RAM and UAM sectors collectively could more than double Embraer’s current projections for the mainstream regional airline market from around 4,000 anticipated deliveries to as many as 9,000.

Quizzed by reporters as to why Embraer will be able to make its mark in the crowded advanced air mobility sector, Meijer said that the company’s track record of bringing new aircraft to market on time, on spec, and on budget will be the differentiator. “There are lots of start-ups trying to get off the ground, but it takes a lot of experience to certify new aircraft,” he responded. “I’m not convinced by the performance goals [of eVTOL aircraft], and I’m not comfortable with their aggressive timelines. The bigger OEMs [Airbus and Boeing] don’t have the right cost structures, but Embraer has experience in the regional sector, plus lean manufacturing processes and a very competitive cost structure.”

According to Affonso, Embraer would like to bring all four Energia concepts to market, but he stressed that consultation with prospective industry partners and airline customers will be needed “to first understand the technical and commercial viability.” He indicated that the airframer will be willing to work with any of the major engine manufacturers to advance the envisaged propulsion systems.

In August, Embraer declared that it will have a hydrogen-powered technology demonstrator aircraft flying by 2025. Addressing an August 13 briefing on the company’s commitment to supporting environmentally sustainable aviation, the Brazilian airframer did not specify whether the aircraft will be a new design or a converted version of one of its existing airliners or business aircraft.

In the same month, Embraer made a first test flight in one of its EMB-203 Ipanema crop-spraying aircraft that has been converted to electric propulsion. The Ipanema was fitted with an electric powertrain developed by Embraer’s partner WEG and batteries provided by energy group EDP. The test flights, which are being conducted at the company’s Gavião Peixoto facility, are mainly focused on evaluating power, performance, control, thermal management, and operational safety.

During the August briefings, the Brazilian airframer announced its commitment to achieving carbon-neutral operations by 2040. It provided few details on a multipronged effort to implement new propulsion technologies as part of the wider effort to support the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change by making the aviation industry net-zero in terms of carbon emissions by 2050. In addition to advancing plans for electric and hydrogen aircraft, Embraer intends to convert all its existing business jets and airliners to be able to use sustainable aviation fuels.

Embraer confirmed that it is also working on a hybrid-electric STOL utility aircraft under a program called Stout. This work is supported by Brazil’s air force.

At the same time, Embraer is stepping up its work with engine maker Pratt & Whitney to have its latest E2 regional jets capable of operating on 100 percent SAF by 2030, and perhaps by as soon as 2027.