Defining the Future of Flight: 1997 -- present

Waves of the Future

As the new millennium advanced, environmentally friendly Boeing technologies began to harness the sun, the wind and the earth for new sources of power.

MOD-2 Wind Turbine at sunset
MOD-2 wind turbine built by Boeing in 1974 at Columbia River Gorge

Boeing had been exploring cleaner ways to use energy since the early 1970s, with the fully automatic personal rapid transit system built in Morgantown, W.Va., and a plan to fertilize crops in the Boardman, Ore., desert using Portland's municipal solid waste. In 1974, Boeing built a group of gigantic MOD-2 wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge. At the same time, Boeing designed a solar power satellite system that could have produced 10,000 megawatts of usable power -- enough to fill the needs of a million homes.

Tapping the sun's energy today will be Boeing-built concentrator photovoltaic cells, manufactured by Spectrolab Inc. of Sylmar, Calif., a wholly owned Boeing subsidiary starting in 2006.

Spectrolab terrestrial solar concentrator
Spectrolab terrestrial solar concentrator

In 2006, Spectrolab signed a contract to deliver 500,000 concentrator solar cell assemblies to Solar Systems Pty. Ltd. of Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia, for use at power stations that generate renewable energy for small, remote Australian communities. An additional 600,000 solar concentrator cells went to SolFocus Inc., a California-based renewable energy company developing renewable terrestrial energy alternatives. The solar cell assemblies are capable of generating more than 11 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 3,500 average-sized homes. During 2009, Spectrolab announced that a solar cell it manufactured set a new world record for terrestrial concentrator solar cell efficiency.

On March 30, 2007, Boeing renewed its commitment to Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Energy Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency working with industry to reduce power use and greenhouse gases. During the summer, Boeing crews on a swath of land near the Boeing Portland, Ore., plant, reshaped the topography to construct a wetland that cleans pollutants from storm water before it flows into the Columbia Slough.

During 2008, Boeing reduced its energy and water consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and hazardous waste at its facilities, and pursued efforts to pioneer environmentally progressive technologies, including the world's first demonstration flights powered in part by sustainable biofuels. It continued to improve the environmental performance of its products through technology advancements and targeted improving the fuel efficiency of each new generation of commercial airplane by at least 15 percent compared to the airplanes they replace. The company also developed technologies to help its government customers achieve their goals for energy efficiency and independence.

Boeing conducted sustainable biofuels demonstration flights with airlines Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, Continental and JAL. Boeing studied ways to accelerate market viability of advanced-generation sustainable biofuels that do not compete with food crops or for water resources. In addition, the company helped demonstrate air traffic management concepts, such as "tailored arrivals," that significantly reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise by improving the efficiency of the air traffic systems.

Boeing also achieved ISO 14001 environmental certification at all of its major manufacturing facilities by the end of 2008. Certification to the globally recognized standard is a benchmark of an organization's commitment to understand and continually improve its environmental performance. In addition, Boeing received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders program for its five-year greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.

During 2008, Boeing, Virgin Atlantic and GE Aviation conducted the first commercial aviation flight using a sustainable biomass-to-liquid fuel mixed with traditional kerosene-based jet fuel. The fuel blend included oils from Babassu nuts extracted from indigenous Brazilian plants and coconuts from the Philippines. The company also flew a manned airplane powered by hydrogen fuel cells, a first in aviation history.

April 23, 2008, Boeing and Airbus signed an agreement to work together to reduce the effects of aviation on the environment. The two companies focused on accelerating improvements to the world's air transportation management system to eliminate unnecessary traffic congestion.

In February 2009, Boeing and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California completed a project expected to save about 870,000 gallons of water a year at the Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems site in El Segundo, Calif. On Aug. 20, 2009, The Boeing Company and DONG Energy of Denmark signed a Memorandum of Understanding, paving the way for combined innovation on energy-related technology and business pursuits.

In other projects that year, Boeing, Honeywell, Masdar Institute and an industry team launched a study of jet fuel made from saltwater plants. In addition, Boeing, Honeywell, and the government of Mexico launched a research and advocacy collaboration to identify, research and further the development of Mexico-sourced sustainable aviation biofuels.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, Boeing has explored and embraced new technologies that improve the way we live, communicate and travel. During the 21st century, the aviation giants that began with Boeing, Douglas, McDonnell, North American and Hughes, united as a global enterprise, continue to successfully define the future of flight on Earth and beyond.

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