FOCUS: EasyJet to use hydrogen cells to power planes
The UK-based budget airliner easyjet has announced plans to use hydrogen fuel cells on their planes, an aviation first.
In February, easyJet announced plans to trial the use of hydrogen fuel cells on their planes, carrying out a ‘proof of concept’ ahead of wide scale adoption.
The airline says it could convert its entire fleet of ordinary planes into hybrids without having to purchase new aircraft, saving a potential 50,000 tons of fuel and corresponding CO2 emissions each year.
The airline plans to store hydrogen fuel cells in the aircraft hold, they would allow a plane to taxi to and from the runway without using any fuel and without the aid of a tug.
The cells would capture energy from the aircraft braking on landing, which would in turn be used to charge lightweight batteries to be used when the plane is on the ground, negating the need to use jet fuel when taxiing.
According to easyjet, around 4% of total fuel is consumed during taxiing, amounting to a considerable saving for the airline.
Because it is a short-haul budget airline, Ian Davies, easyJet's head of engineering, says it is particularly well-placed to trial the proof of concept.
"Because of the fact we're a low-cost carrier, most people take hand luggage and our hulls are empty, so we have the space to do it," he says.
The only waste the hydrogen fuel cell produces is clean water, which easyJet could use to refill the aircraft's water system.
This pioneering concept, which could have wide-ranging implications for the aviation sector and especially air cargo operators with even more bellyhold space than EasyJet, is only now possible thanks to advancements in hydrogen technology.
"Capital costs of hydrogen fuel stations have come down by 75% in the last 10 years, so being able to make this in an economically sound way and with relatively little land mass is the here and now," explains Davies.
Though easyJet plans to begin trialling the technology this year, Davies says it will be several years at least before the full easyJet fleet will be carrying the cells.
"We're banking on a three- to five-year proof of concept, and after that hopefully we can persuade mainstream manufacturers to adopt it in the next five to 15 years," he says.