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EasyJet, the airline known for its iconic orange livery, is set to go green after revealing its plans to trial new hydrogen powered, hybrid planes this year in the bid to save fuel, cut emissions and speed up journey times.
The concept design for its new aircraft, like many of the hybrid cars on the road, would primarily be powered by fossil fuel but would be supplemented by a renewable energy source, in this case a hydrogen fuel cell for taxiing, meaning planes would not have to fire up engines. This would eliminate the use of diesel fuel while also cutting out emissions and noise when on the ground. The hybrid technology would be a global first for commercial aircraft.
It also means planes would not require airport vehicles to tow the aircraft to and from gates, cutting down further on fuel and speeding up the turnaround and take-off process by giving pilots total control of the taxi operation. Pilots would be able to switch on the alternative power source stowed in the aircraft's hold like that of Formula 1 cars that use the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS).
The idea arrived after easyJet partnered with Cranfield University for its 20th birthday to see what designs and technology would be on its planes in the future, the theme they came up with was eco and asked themselves whether hydrogen fuel cells could power a plane.
"We thought if hydrogen can power a car or a bus, why can't we power enough of the aircraft during turnaround, and even taking it a step further at 150kw to power a green taxi system we can make the whole ground journey silent," said easyJet's head of engineering, Ian Davis, touching on the rise of fuel cells used in Toyota and Hyundai's hydrogen cars.
The hydrogen cell container is powered and recharged in three different ways including hydrogen, which essentially takes water and mixes it with air to create an electrochemical current – all that is emitted into the atmosphere is pure water. Or, in this aircraft's case, the water byproduct will be reused to fill the plane's water system throughout the flight. In addition to this, there will be photovoltaic cells on top of the planes that will recharge the power source plus a regenerative braking system that harvest power when the plane uses its brakes as it lands.
"The hybrid plane concept we are announcing today is both a vision of the future and a challenge to our partners and suppliers to continue to push the boundaries towards reducing our carbon emissions," said Davis.
When will the hybrid passenger plane take to the skies?
EasyJet will now work with its industry partners and suppliers to apply the cutting edge technology much sooner, with a trial set to take place later this year.
According to easyJet, around four percent of the airline's total fuel consumed annually is used when aircraft are taxiing. With an average 20 minutes of taxi time per flight – the equivalent of around four million miles a year – this is the same as travelling to the moon and back eight times. By switching to a cleaner, renewable energy source it could save the airline millions in fuel costs every year as well as help reduce its carbon footprint.
EasyJet is continuing to build on last year's innovation, when it showed off wearable technology for the crew as well as the use of drones to check the condition of the exterior of aircraft. If only it could figure out a way to eliminate Speedy Boarding Smugness Syndrome, that would be a true achievement.