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PlanetSolar’s Pioneering Voyage


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By Mike Brandolino

Imagine a futuristic marine craft that looks like it jumped off the pages of a Jules Verne or H.G. Wells science fiction novel.

Imagine breakthrough technology that captures the power of the sun for fueling adventures.

Imagine traveling to exotic destinations in the equatorial regions of the earth using advanced technology.

Imagine sailing around the world in a completely quiet vessel that does not cause adverse ecological or environmental impacts.

Stop imagining! The future of ocean travel is upon us, and it is called the MS TÛRANOR. This is the largest solar-powered boat in the world. Craig Loomes from Auckland, New Zealand, designed the ship, and Knierim Werft in Kiel, Germany, built it. It took Werft about 14 months to construct the futuristic vessel. The name TÛRANOR comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “Lord of the Rings” and means “the power of the sun” and “victory,” according to the PlanetSolar Web site.

The large, 60-ton catamaran is nearly concealed by the solar panels topside. The ship’s deck is an impressive 5,700 square feet of solar panels. The solar ship is large enough to hold up to 40 people: four crew members and 36 passengers.

Some of the solar cell panels are adjustable to optimize sunlight capturing. The solar ship also is equipped with rechargeable power cells that can sustain the craft for up to three days if the ship encounters excessively cloudy skies or poor weather conditions.

This voyage to circumnavigate the earth using only the power of the sun began September 27, 2010. The ship set off from Monaco amidst much celebration and fanfare. The crew plans to sail the craft around the world at a leisurely average of 7.5 knots.

PlanetSolar’s goals for the voyage are to:

  • Demonstrate the potential of renewable energies and photovoltaics (solar panels and rechargeable power cells);
  • Show that the required technology already currently exists for sustainability;
  • Advance development of renewable energy and advance scientific research;
  • Educate the public about renewable energy;
  • Demonstrate energy efficiency; and
  • Demonstrate the economy and ecology can and must work together.

The solar ship will navigate 50,000 kilometers (26,998 nautical miles), mostly along an east-to-west equatorial route. This route provides the greatest opportunity for the solar panels to absorb sunlight. An equatorial route is also the longest path around the planet, and thus the best way to test the ship’s capabilities.

Under the Swiss flag, a crew of six will take the ship around the world and stop at many seaports along the way. While docked in the seaports, the craft will undergo general maintenance for crew safety and vessel performance.

During their stops, crew members will act as solar ambassadors and will educate the public about the significance of their global adventure. They are not just on a pleasure cruise; they are conducting scientific research that could change ocean travel forever.

The crew changed in New Caledonia, a group of islands about 1,000 miles of the east coast of Australia. This marked the midpoint of the voyage. At that time, the ship and first crew made the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a solar- powered craft. They also achieved the longest distance ever covered by a solar vehicle. The expedition covered 15,000 nautical miles, one-half the planned voyage in May.

The voyage originally was planned to last at least eight months and, due to the increasing interest and success of the voyage, the crew added more seaport stopovers to the itinerary. The MS TÛRANOR* PlanetSolar is expected to return to its homeport in Monaco in April of next year. You can follow the expedition on PlanetSolar’s Web site.

Mike Brandolino writes about agricultural and environmental issues.

© 2011 SCGH, LLC.

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