As one of the infamous "low-cost airlines," easyJet has become much more well known as a company that is cost-cutting as opposed to money spending. But in a step toward expanding its cutting philosophy, the company is looking to invest in cutting its carbon footprint, having unveiled plans to test a hybrid zero emissions hydrogen fuel system for its aircraft that could save around 50,000 t of fuel and the associated CO2 emissions per year.
easyJet has set new targets for 2020 that will contribute to a reduction of 7% over the next five years compared to its emissions today—which are 81.05 g/km CO2 per passenger—following a decrease of 28% over the last 15 years. easyJet claims its business model enables it to have a passenger carbon footprint 22% less than a passenger on a traditional airline, flying the same aircraft on the same route.
“The hybrid plane concept is both a vision of the future and a challenge to our partners and suppliers to continue to push the boundaries toward reducing our carbon emissions," said Ian Davies, easyJet's Head of Engineering.
The hybrid plane concept will use a hydrogen fuel cell that will allow energy to be captured as the aircraft brakes on landing. It will be used to charge the system’s lightweight batteries when the aircraft is on the ground. The energy can then be used by the aircraft such as when taxiing without needing to use its jet engines.
Because of the high frequency and short sector lengths of easyJet’s operations, around 4% of the airline’s total fuel consumed annually is used when the airline’s aircraft are taxiing. easyJet’s aircraft average 20 minutes of taxi time per flight—the equivalent of around four million miles a year—"akin to travelling to the moon and back eight times," says the company.
Each aircraft would have motors in its main wheels and electronics and system controllers would give pilots total control of the aircraft’s speed, direction, and braking during taxi operations. The system would thus reduce, if not remove altogether, the need for tugs to manoeuver aircraft in and out of gates for more efficient turnaround times.
The only waste product will fresh clean water, which could be used to refill the aircraft’s water system throughout the flight.
The concept has been developed by Davies and his team with Cranfield University. easyJet and Cranfield signed a three year strategic partnership agreement last year to share innovation and knowledge.
easyJet operates a fleet of over 240 Airbus A319s and A320s with an average age of about 6 years old. It will take first delivery of the A320neo starting in June 2017. It says the new planes will be around 13-15% more fuel efficient than the planes they are replacing.