When it comes to reducing emissions, cars get plenty of attention--but an increase in air traffic is making aircraft emissions increasingly important.

The European Union hopes to tackle that problem with CleanSky 2, a follow up to its CleanSky research program.

While it will be comprised of many public and private participants, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus will be leading the list.

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The program is meant to address an anticipated tripling of air traffic by 2050 and the increase in greenhouse-gas emissions it will cause, according to a recent SAE International blog post.

The goal of the project is to find ways to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides--as well as noise levels--by 20 to 30 percent by 2050.

While the effort will involve around 600 participants, including universities and smaller companies, Airbus will likely be among the most prominent.

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The manufacturer will focus on finding ways to improve the efficiency of large aircraft, and will set up test programs that will focus on engines, structural design, and electronics.

Fuel Cells Too

In addition, Airbus is continuing to experiment with using hydrogen fuel cells on airliners.

The company unveiled its Multifunctional Fuel Cell at the 2012 Berlin Air Show, and recently entered into an agreement with South Africa's National Aerospace Centre to jointly fund fuel-cell research by Hydrogen South Africa.

Airbus A380

Airbus A380

Airbus believes fuel cells could be used in place of the auxiliary power unit (APU) generators that provide electrical power to airliners while on the ground.

In addition to decreasing emissions, fuel cells could potentially lower the weight of aircraft and reduce maintenance costs.

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They could also potentially be used generate an onboard water supply, as well as "inerting gases"--used to reduce flammability in aircraft fuel tanks and suppress cargo-hold fires.

The research funded by Airbus will look at the durability of fuel cells in airline use, while the company itself plans to test fuel cells in an A320 airliner sometime during the next few years.

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