British low-cost airline EasyJet has announced its plan to cut fuel costs and carbon emissions by turning to hydrogen fuel cell technology. This doesn’t mean they’re about to fly on hydrogen power – we’re not quite there yet – but EasyJet believes it can use hydrogen fuel cells to power aircraft’s taxiing to and from runways.
EasyJet’s initial press release was a little unclear on technical details, and many of the media reports seem to have conflated fuel cell and battery technology. It seems that the airline plans to install a hydrogen fuel cell in the hold, replacing the traditional auxiliary power unit. This will be a backup to a battery system that will regain charge from photovoltaics in the plane roof, as well as a kinetic energy recovery system connected to the landing gear. The latter technology captures energy that would otherwise be lost during braking, and draws on advances made in the racing car industry over recent years.
Taxiing makes up 4% of EasyJet’s total fuel expenditure, so this melange of energy storage could make for significant carbon savings. Ian Davies, the airline’s Head of Engineering, said that the concepts grew from work done with Cranfield University to envision what the airplanes of 2030 might look like.
Initial public response has been muted, with tabloids seizing on the possibility that passengers might be forced to drink ‘waste’ water produced as a byproduct of the hydrogen process. Nonetheless, EasyJet presses on, and hopes to trial the system later this year.