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Solar Powered Flight

By Kristy Hoare on in New Solar Technology

Solar Powered Flight

What better way to demonstrate the future of solar energy than flying a solar-powered plane across the world! The Solar Impluse project, with Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, are doing just that. The project, which departed from Abu Dhabi in March of 2015, intends to achieve the first circumnavigation of the Earth by a piloted fixed-wing aircraft using only solar power.

The aircraft itself, dubbed the Sunseeker 2, or the SI2, is a truly amazing feat of solar engineering. With a wingspan of 72m, wider than a 747 jumbo jet, the SI2 only weighs 2.3 tonnes, about the weight of a Volvo sedan. Along with the light weight, the performance of the 17,000 solar cells that line the top of the wings, and the energy-dense lithium-ion batteries will sustain night-time flying, and ensure the success of the flight.

For the pilots, the entire journey will resemble circumnavigating the Earth in a family car. SI2's top speed is 87m/h (140km/h) but the pilots will conserve battery power by limiting the plane to roughly half that.

The cockpit is only slightly larger than an average car and must contain the life support systems, food, oxygen supplies and the reclining pilot's seat that triples as bed, chair and toilet.

The plan is to stop off at various locations around the globe, to rest and to carry out maintenance, and also to spread a campaigning message about clean technologies. The project will complete its global journey in August of 2015, returning to Abu Dhabi.

Before taking off, Borschberg told BBC News: "I am confident we have a very special aeroplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans. We may have to fly for five days and five nights to do that, and it will be a challenge. But we have the next two months, as we fly the legs to China, to train and prepare ourselves."

It's a pinch-yourself-in-the-arm moment in the history of technology as Solar Impulse takes to the skies. Because, according to BBC News reporting, solar power is predicted to become the dominant source of electricity globally by 2050.

I am constantly floored by the pioneering; innovatory spirit solar engineers have. They are achieving "impossible" things with renewable energy and highlighting (in really big ways) new solutions for our environmental problems.

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