Low-cost airline easyJet is discussing plans to install hydrogen batteries as part of a proposed zero emission fuel system, which would power its aircraft during taxiing.

The budget service revealed designs for a hybrid plane this week, and said that it would begin trialling the technology later this year. The system will involve embedding a hydrogen fuel cell on board the aeroplanes, with the energy captured from the brakes on landing able to power the jet on the ground. This technique is similar to the high-end kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) used in Formula One cars, which store recovered energy to later use for acceleration.

As the only waste product from a hydrogen cell would be fresh, clean water, Ian Davies, head of engineering at easyJet, also suggested that this could be used to refill the planes’ water systems during the flight, providing a water source for passengers to drink and for flushing toilets.

easyJet claims that an estimated 4% of its fuel consumption is used when the aircraft are travelling to and from the runway – an average of 20 minutes per flight. It hopes that the introduction of hybrid planes could save around 50,000 tonnes of fuel every year across the whole fleet.

The hybrid plane concept has emerged as part of a project by students based at Cranfield University, Bedford.

Of the new experiments, Davies commented: ‘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.’

easyJet has promised to cut its passengers’ carbon footprint – which currently stands at 81.05g of CO2 per passenger kilometre – by a target 7% by 2020. It argues that its young fleet and full flights already guarantee significantly lower emissions than more traditional airlines.