Tour on solar-powered boat to beat climate change

May 03, 2012 by Sonia Logre-Grezzi
The PlanetSolar catamaran at the Calvi's harbor in Corsica, France, on May 1. Swiss electrical engineer Raphael Domjan began his journey from Monaco in September 2010 on the boat he built after seeing the effects of climate change on an Icelandic glacier.

Scanning the horizon on his solar-powered catamaran, Swiss electrical engineer Raphael Domjan counts down the hours to the completion of his record-breaking world tour.

"The idea was not to perform a feat but an eco-adventure with the aim of passing on the message that change is possible," Domjan told AFP-TV as his boat furrowed through choppy waves from Italy's Elba Island to Corsica in France.

Domjan began his journey from Monaco in September 2010 on the boat he built after seeing the effects of climate change on an Icelandic glacier, and he is due to complete it on May 4 when he returns to the Mediterranean port.

"I realised was real and I had to do something," he said.

The 31-metre (102-foot) white Planetsolar, with 537 square metres of black mounted around a raised cockpit, cost 15 million euros to build, and the project only became possible after Domjan joined up with German businessman Immo Stroeher.

Domjan, 40, and his crew, including a captain, a chief builder and a mechanic, are hoping that their exhausting but historic 600-day journey will herald a new era in eco-friendly travel, particularly in the tourism sector.

After crossing the Atlantic and passing through the Panama Canal, they crossed the Pacific and returned to Europe via the Suez Canal.

There were a few hiccups along the way, including a frustrating three-day wait off the coast of Australia when a storm blocked out the sun.

The are 537 square metres of black solar panels mounted around a raised cockpit aboard PlanetSolar. Planetsolar can produce up to 500 or 600 kiloWatts per hour in good weather -- enough to travel 300 km when the battery is fully charged using engines no more powerful than those on a scooter.

"We have everything at our disposal: the know-how, technology, raw materials and renewable energy to become sustainable and protect the planet," said the engineer, a nature lover who is also a pilot, ambulance man and mountain guide.

Planetsolar can produce up to 500 or 600 kiloWatts per hour in good weather -- enough to travel 300 kilometres (186 miles) when the battery is fully charged using engines no more powerful than those on a scooter.

Everything on board is solar-powered: from the boat's engines and the on-board computers to the hot water and the light bulbs.

"The boat wasn't easy to build, but we built it in a record time of year-and-a-half years," said Jens Langwasser, 28, the chief builder.

"We had a lot of problems with finding the right panels, the right battery. It hasn't been easy. This is solar energy. You go on the road with storms, rain and all types of conditions. You never know what will happen."

As the boat requires maximum sunlight to move, it had to sail as close as possible to the Equator and follow routes that constantly had to change, based on how much sunlight was forecast for any particular day.

"Twice a day we get a bulletin with sunlight forecasts. Sometimes we have to slow down to go through a patch of clouds and find a sunny spot," said captain Erwann Le Rouzic, 40, an experienced sailor.

Erwann said that despite all the frustrations he was thrilled about the implications of solar-powered travel.

"Of course it only works in sunny areas and on some types of , and I'm not saying we'll see cargo ships becoming solar powered in 10 years, but now we know it works and there are a lot of possible uses," he said.

Ibor, a resident of Calvi where the ship arrived on one of its final legs of the world tour, said he was impressed.

"There's no two ways about it. This is the future. No doubt about it," he said.

Raphael said he has managed to show to industrialists, businessmen and politicians that his were not just fantasies from the novels of Jules Verne such as "Around the World in 80 days", but feasible ideas.

His first victory is already secure. As the Planetsolar was passing the Galapagos Islands, the government there decided to ban access to one of the archipelago's islands to all boats except for solar or electric-powered ones.

Explore further: Matched 'hybrid' systems may hold key to wider use of renewable energy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Skipper unveils world's biggest solar-powered boat

Feb 25, 2010

A skipper hoping to become the first to sail round the world using solar power said his catamaran could carve a wake for pollution-free shipping as he unveiled the record-breaking yacht Thursday.

World's biggest solar boat docks in Hong Kong

Aug 15, 2011

There is "huge potential" to use alternative energy in the shipping industry, the man behind the world's biggest solar boat said on Monday as it arrived in Hong Kong as part of a global voyage.

Pioneering solar-powered plane makes airborne hop

Dec 03, 2009

The prototype of Solar Impulse, a pioneering Swiss bid to fly around the world on solar power, briefly took off for the first time on Thursday but under battery power, the organisers said.

Recommended for you

Are electric cars greener? Depends on where you live

Nov 25, 2014

Long thought a thing of the future, electric cars are becoming mainstream. Sales in the United States of plug-in, electric vehicles nearly doubled last year. Credible forecasts see the number rising within ...

Building a better battery

Nov 25, 2014

Imagine an electric car with the range of a Tesla Model S - 265 miles - but at one-fifth the $70,000 price of the luxury sedan. Or a battery able to provide many times more energy than today's technology ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

javjav
3.8 / 5 (4) May 03, 2012
In comparison with sailing boats, this is very expensive and the boat much slower. On the sea, wind is much more efficient and equally renewable. Solar panels will only be useful when they come embedded on the sail fabric.
sobretiempo68
1 / 5 (1) May 03, 2012
I think thereĀ“s always a beginning and soon there are new ideas that help improve the initial concept. embed this paneling in the factory is not the real problem, but the total power is the most important now, to this design I would complement it with three eolian turbines on top just to give the additional power required...
irjsiq
not rated yet May 04, 2012
sobretiempo68 What are 'eolian turbines'?
Wiki did not know!
Roy Stewart,
Phoenix AZ

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.