The goals of the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) to reduce CO2 emissions by 50 percent, NOx emissions by 80 percent and noise cut by 50 percent by 2020 has seen aircraft manufacturers and airlines looking at alternative fuels such as biofuel.
While not feasible for powering the flight of the aircraft itself, Airbus has also been looking at the potential for fuel cell technology to power a number of aircraft functions, such as autonomous taxiing.
In 2008, Airbus, together with its research partner the German Aerospace Center (DLR), performed the first successful flight test of fuel cell technology where a fuel cell system provided power for the aircraft’s back-up systems. Airbus and DLR are now looking at the potential of fuel cell technology for powering other aircraft functions including autonomous taxiing.
A DLR designed technology demonstrator has been installed in a DLR owned A320 ATRA (Advanced Technology Research Aircraft) consisting of a fuel cell system powering two electric motors built into the rims of the aircraft nose wheel. The 47-ton aircraft taxied around Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport propelled by an electric nose wheel on July 1st, 2011.
DLR says that an airliner fitted with a fuel cell-powered nose wheel would be able to move from its stand to the end of the runway without using its engines, thus allowing emissions produced in airports to be cut by up to roughly 18 percent and the noise during taxiing to be almost eliminated completely.