Air travel may be the most polluting method of travel we have, but that doesn’t mean some airlines aren’t trying to reduce their environmental footprint when possible. Airbus is prepping for flight following up on successful ground tests for its fuel cell assisted A320.

Flight tests are coming up in 2015 for an Airbus A320 with a 90 kW fuel cell system installed onboard, which the company hopes to use to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 15 percent. The fuel cell will act as an auxiliary energy source, powering the plane’s non-propulsion systems such as avionics, lights, entertainment services, environmental controls, hydraulics, and the fuel safety system which keeps oxygen levels low in the jet fuel tanks. By utilizing a fuel cell to power such systems it would eliminate the need to keep a plane’s engines powered up on the ground while reducing the drain on the engines during flight.

Airbus and the German Aerospace Centre Advanced Testing and Research Aircraft (DLR ATRA) already tested such a system on the ground in 2011, when they utilized a fuel cell powered electric nose wheel to taxi around Hamburg’s Finkenwerder Airport. At that time, DLR stated that such a technology could result in 19 percent lower emissions from planes waiting or taxiing on runways.

Fuel cell systems installed on aircraft could have additional benefits to the industry as well, as the technology could also provide for significant weight reductions. Engines could be smaller and planes wouldn’t need to carry as much water on takeoff as they currently do, as fuel cells generate water during operation.

While my preferred method of travel is and always will be the train, it’s good to know that some airlines are working hard on new clean tech in order to make their industry a little less carbon-intensive. Maybe someday, we’ll see it full of fuel cell and electric aircraft, flying emission-free around the globe.

[via MIT Technology Review]

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