June 26, 2009

The Sky Is The Limit For Renewable Energy

Swiss adventurer, Bertrand Piccard, revealed on Friday the prototype of a solar powered plane that he plans to use as he embarks on an around the world flight demonstrating the possibilities of alternative energy. 

The prototype, HB-SIA, has the wingspan of a jumbo jet but only weighs as much as a mid-sized family car.

The plane is powered by four electric motors and is designed to fly both day and night by storing extra energy from its 24,000 solar cells in high-performance batteries.

The flight would not be without great risk. Solar and battery technologies have only recently attained a level of maturity that could sustain flight through the night, which has only been tested in unmanned planes.

But Dr. Piccard's Solar Impulse team cannot be deterred after investing such an incredible amount of energy as well as money into creating what they believe is a breakthrough design.

"Yesterday it was a dream. Today it is a plane. Tomorrow it will be an ambassador of renewable energy," Piccard said in a news conference at Duebendorf airfield near Zurich.

"If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled solely by solar energy, let no one come and claim that is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air conditioning systems and computers," Piccard said.

Piccard made history in 1999 by circling the globe non-stop in a hot-air balloon. He hopes that the prototype will take its first test trip later this year before a first complete night flight over Switzerland planned for 2010.

For the past six years, Piccard along with 50 engineers and technicians has worked tirelessly on what is called the Solar Impulse, which has several high profile backers funding the expedition including Deutsche Bank, watchmaker Omega and Swiss chemicals maker Solvay.

The plane utilizes a combination of innovative aerodynamic features, novel lightweight materials strong enough to resist pressures at high altitude and solar technology to give its performance utmost efficiency.

Planned to take its place in the future, the HB-SIB, is expected be even bigger, allowing Piccard and fellow pilot Andre Borschberg to fly around the world in five stages and will follow a route similar to the path he took in the record-breaking Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon, traveling at a low latitude in the Northern Hemisphere. The flight could go from the United Arab Emirates, to China, to Hawaii, across the southern US, southern Europe, and back to the UAE. HB-SIB is projected to start in 2012.

"The airplane could do it theoretically non-stop - but not the pilot," said Dr Piccard.
The trip is expected to take between 20 and 25 days, which is much too long for the pilot who has to steer the plane.

"In a balloon you can sleep, because it stays in the air even if you sleep. We believe the maximum for one pilot is five days," he explained.

"Through this project we are proclaiming our conviction that a pioneering spirit and political vision can together change society and put an end to fossil fuel dependency," Piccard said.


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