EasyJet has announced plans to test a hybrid hydrogen fuel system. The concept was conceived by students at Cranfield University and could save around 50,000 tonnes (55,115 tons) of fuel a year, as well as the associated CO2 emissions. It would recover energy from braking when a plane lands.
The principle is similar to the regenerative braking systems that we see on many of today's cars. A hydrogen fuel cell would use energy captured by the plane when braking to charge batteries in the aircraft. These could then be used at later point to meet part of the plane's power requirements. Even the waste-water produced by the process could be recycled in the plane's water system.
EasyJet suggests that the energy recovered could go towards offsetting the 4 percent of fuel used by its planes when taxiing. Aircraft could theoretically be fitted with motors in their main wheels, the company says, with systems allowing pilots to control speed, direction and braking. This could reduce, if not eliminate, the need for tugs to maneuver aircraft in and out of stands.
EasyJet has been looking at more energy-efficient approaches to taxiing for some years. As a short-haul carrier, a higher proportion of its fuel costs are related to taxiing compared to long-haul carriers.
Overall, the firm says its average passenger's carbon footprint is already 22 percent less than that of a passenger on other airlines flying in the same aircraft on the same route. It is aiming for a further 7 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.
EasyJet's work with Cranfield University is part of a three-year strategic partnership agreement share innovation and knowledge that was signed last year. Among the other ideas worked on with the university's aerospace students are dynamic wings that change shape in flight, a "shark-skin" coating to reduce surface drag, and ultra-lightweight carbon fiber seats that incorporate wireless phone- and tablet-charging panels
EasyJet is working with industry partners and suppliers to develop the hybrid technology, with a trial set to take place later this year.
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