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Boeing flies on hydrogen

Latest update : 2008-04-03

Boeing said it flew a hydrogen-powered plane flew for twenty minutes earlier this year, in a pioneering event that could spell "hope for a greener future". However, the US constructor said the technology would remain limited to small aircraft.

US aircraft maker Boeing flew a plane earlier this year that was powered by a hydrogen battery in a first for the aviation industry that could herald a greener future, senior company officials said in Spain on Thursday.

But the company said that although hydrogen fuel cells could be used to power small planes it did not believe they could become the primary power source for large passenger planes.

"For the first time in the history of aviation, Boeing has flown a manned airplane that was powered by a hydrogen battery," Boeing chief technology officer John Tracy told a news conference at the firm's research centre in the central Spanish town of Ocana.

The development was "a historical technological success for Boeing" and was "full of promises for a greener future", he added.

The plane, which used propellers, flew at a speed of 100 kilometres (62 miles) an hour for about 20 minutes at an altitude of about 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) using only the hydrogen battery for power, Boeing said in a statement.

Hydrogen power uses of chemical "fuel cells" that can tap the energy produced from the chemical transformation of hydrogen and oxygen into water.

It holds the promise of a cleaner and renewable energy resource as it produces only harmless water vapor.

The director of Boeing's research centre at Ocana, Francisco Escarti, said it "could be the main source of energy for a small plane" but would likely not become the "primary source of energy for big passenger planes".

"The company will continue to explore their potential as well as that of all durable sources of energy that boost environmental performance," he said.

Demand for cleaner, safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles and airplanes is growing amid rising fuel costs and mounting concerns over pollution and climate change.

Several auto makers, including General Motors, Nissan and BMW, are working on the development of hydrogen-powered cars.

"Boeing recognizes that pollution represents a serious environmental challenge," Tracy said.

Boeing's first new model in over a decade, the Dreamliner, uses high-tech composites which reduces its weight and which the company says will make it consume 20 percent less fuel then similar-sized planes already on the market.

The International Energy Agency has said that hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells could play a key role in weaning energy users away from oil, gas and coal which have been blamed for climate change.

Date created : 2008-04-03

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