p>General Motors and BMW Group on Wednesday confirmed earlier reports that they will jointly develop refuelling devices for liquid hydrogen vehicles, and invite other carmakers and suppliers to join this initiative.

"We want to accelerate the progress being made on the distribution and on-board storage of liquid hydrogen as the future fuel," GM's vice president of research and development and planning Lawrence Burns said.

"Both compressed and liquid hydrogen hold promise to be used in hydrogen vehicles. The density of hydrogen in a liquid state is especially attractive with respect to fuel distribution and vehicle range."

The collaborative work will centre around setting global standards, establishing specifications for suppliers and finding the best technical and cost effective solution, according to BMW's head of science and traffic policy Christoph Huss.

"In the long term, we are expecting a nationwide network of 10,000 hydrogen filling stations in Germany," Huss said. "Even today, however, we have to start working on a standard so that customers will not be confronted with various systems. Standardising the refuelling coupler is a must. Liquid hydrogen provides the most convenient way in transporting hydrogen fuel before a hydrogen pipeline infrastructure is in place. By teaming together, we will help bring about the liquid hydrogen infrastructure faster."

GM and BMW's goal is to have affordable and compelling hydrogen vehicles for sale by 2010 and the companies need to concentrate on the storage and handling technology to achieve this goal.

Future liquid-hydrogen coupling units will follow draft specifications by the European Integrated Hydrogen Project (EIHP). The EIHP's drafts are the basis for the United Nations' Economic Commission of Europe (ECE) standard for hydrogen-powered vehicles currently being negotiated.

"BMW and GM want this refuelling system - with the coupler as a core component - to become a global standard," Huss said.

"Hydrogen can be established as the fuel of the future faster if companies, such as BMW and GM, cooperate in the development and standardizsation of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies," said GM fuel cell activities chief engineer Udo Winter.

Separately, a Reuters report said that US president George W. Bush's plan to spend $US1.3 billion in research over the next five years to develop hydrogen cars and infrastructure took a step forward when the Senate Energy Committee agreed on Tuesday to authorise funding.

However, Republican lawmakers rejected a Democratic proposal to have 100,000 hydrogen-powered cars on the highway by 2010 and 2.5 million vehicles ready by 2020, Reuters added.

Democrats said goals were needed to spur car makers, arguing the White House proposal stopped short of making the cars a commercial reality, the Reuters report said.