February 27, 2010

World’s Biggest Solar-Powered Boat Unveiled

A skipper who is hoping to be the first person to sail around the world using only solar power, unveiled his catamaran late this week that he says could be a sign for possible pollution-free shipping in the future.

Raphael Domjan's dream, a 100 foot long white catamaran named PlanetSolar, was designed to reach a top speed of 15 knots (15 miles per hour) and is capable of transporting 50 passengers. The vessel cost nearly 24 million dollars to build and is the world's biggest solar-powered boat.

The boat is topped with almost 5,400 square feet of black solar panels. It was built at the Knierim Yacht Club in Kiel, Germany. It was designed to slice through waves smoothly, even in choppy waters.

Silent and clean ocean travel was achieved centuries ago using sail power, and the team that built the catamaran says it is unlikely that solar power will become a main source of power for modern cargo ships. However, they are viewing the voyage as a way to promote solar power and other non-polluting sources of energy.

"The aim is really to show that we have the technology today, not tomorrow," Domjan told AFP. "It is a technology that is reliable, able to perform and economically interesting."

"We're not saying that all the world's boats could be solar-powered ... But along the Equator there are lots of fishing boats, lots of boats that only sail for a few hours, and it would be perfect for these to be solar-powered," he said.

PlanetSolar will be launched in late March. It will appear at Hamburg port's 821st anniversary celebration in May, and then undergo testing between June and September. Domjan is scheduling a world tour to begin in April of 2011.

The two-person crew plans on following a route that will keep them as close to the equator as possible in order to maximize the amount of sunlight that powers the vessel. Other passengers, including reporters, environmentalists, etc are expected to join the voyage at various stages.

The 25,000 mile journey is expected to last about 140 days. The team feels the boat will keep an average speed of around eight knots. The planned route will take them across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, then pass through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.

The crew plans to make frequent stopovers along the way including New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore, southern France and other key areas.

There are concerns about its approach to the Suez Canal through the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa. Organizers said they might send the boat around the Cape of Good Hope instead.


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