PlanetSolar: the biggest sun-powered boat in the world
Alone with his dream
In the beginning, he was alone …
It was in 2004 that Swiss climber Raphaël Domjan thought of making the first trip round the world in a solar boat.
At that time, it was not even fashionable and he would have to convince future sponsors and schools.
To do so, he brought together and organised a team of enthusiasts ready to follow him in this adventure. In the beginning, I was alone; I only had my dream to convince people”.
Today, over 100 people around the world are working on the PlanetSolar project.
Their aim: to make an innovative and futuristic boat, powered by silent non-polluting engines, driven exclusively by renewable energy sources, with a view to changing mentalities and the technology of hybrid vehicles.
An objective which will involve developments in materials and plastic composite structures and the production and storage of photovoltaic energy.
A gem of futuristic technologies … and composites
The work of this team of physicists, engineers, boat-builders and specialists in protecting the environment has given birth to Turanor PlanetSolar (Turanor is taken from the Lord of the Rings and means “power of the sun”), a revolutionary catamaran.
Measuring 31 metres long by 15 metres wide, this catamaran of carbon-fibre, plastic resin and a foam core weighs 85 tonnes and can reach a speed of about 7.5 knots (15 km/h).
The boat is propelled by solar energy provided by 536 square metres of photovoltaic panels. And when the sun goes down, PlanetSolar continues to sail at night too, thanks to the lithium batteries which allow it to store the surplus energy accumulated during the day.
As underlined by its initiator, Raphaël Domjan, “above all, the PlanetSolar project represents a tremendous opportunity to drive forward scientific research and demonstrate that the technology is already available today to design more environment-friendly means of transport”.
PlanetSolar is not the first boat to place its trust in this type of energy, many others have solar panels, but these only provide energy for auxiliary tasks such as lighting.
On board the catamaran, from the engine to the cigar lighter, everything works from the sun.
With 825 solar panels (38,000 photovoltaic solar cells), PlanetSolar consumes as much as a scooter.
The solar energy produced is stored in 6 blocks, each with 12 batteries comprising 648 cells using lithium-ion technology.
Composite or nothing …
However, this giant is extremely light due to its structure of plastic composite materials.
20.6 tonnes of carbon fibre, 23 tonnes of epoxy resin and 11.5 tonnes of high-density PVC foam allowed a robust structure to be built, capable of bearing the weight of the solar panels whilst remaining lightweight.
All the researchers’ efforts were concentrated on making the boat as light as possible: the hull, for instance, constructed in the shipyard of Knierim Yachtbau in Kiel, is composed of a carbon/resin sandwich of 4 mm, and the two propellers, each with a diameter of around two metres, are also made of carbon.
All the latest technological advances in composite boatbuilding are incorporated in this project.
Planet Solar a effectué sa première mise à l’eau avec succès le 31 mars dernier à Kiel, au nord de l’Allemagne.
PlanetSolar successfully took to the water for the first time on 31 March in Kiel, in Northern Germany. A 110-metre high crane provided for this purpose lifted the 85-tonne marine baby and delicately dipped its feet into the Baltic Sea, a little cold at that time of year...
Next stage: around the world in 160 days
The Turanor PlanetSolar will weigh anchor in 2011 to make a trip of 50,000 km.
It will leave the Mediterranean to join the Atlantic and then pass through the Panama Canal to the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
With two skippers on board, its “daddy” (or “its designer”) and Gérard d’Aboville, the first French navigator to row across the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Keeping to a path closest to the energy source whilst avoiding currents, waves and headwinds - that is the challenge!
It will stop at Hamburg, London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.