Airbus is looking to carry out flight tests of a fuel cell four times more powerful than a previous demonstrator and capable of running multiple systems, including electric-taxi drives.
The latest cell would deliver about 100kW to the aircraft, compared with the 25kW from a pallet-mounted system tested in 2008.
Airbus says the device, developed with German aerospace research centre DLR and Parker Aerospace, will feature a liquid hydrogen tank, heat exchangers and fans in the tail cone, while the fuel cell is fitted in the cargo hold.
As well as providing emergency power, the cell would feed other functions including fuel-tank inerting, using the by-product of nitrogen-rich air, and water production.
"By being able to produce a supply of clean water the aircraft's own water buffer tank size can be reduced, saving weight," says the airframer, adding that the power developed would also be enough for an autonomous electric-taxiing system.
The technology could also provide an alternative to Halon-based fire-extinguishing systems.
Airbus, which is investigating the use of fuel cells to replace auxiliary power units, believes it could potentially flight test the cell around 2015, fitted to an A320.