Fastest solar boat attempts round-the-world challenge

'Planet Solar' would be the world's fastest fully solar-powered boat and is projected to cross the Atlantic in two weeks.
The world’s largest, fastest fully solar-powered boat is being built in preparation for a round-the-world challenge.

The futuristic-looking “Planet Solar,” which is 100 percent powered by sunlight, is the brainchild of Swiss engineer Raphael Domjan, a former paramedic with a passion for innovative design and renewable energies. The 30-meter vessel is currently being built in Kiel, Germany, and will be finished early next year. If all goes according to plan, the boat will begin sailing summer 2010 — first in European waters and then around the world. The boat can travel at up to 14 knots (26k/m) and would be the first solar-powered boat to travel at such high speeds. It is projected to be able to cross the Atlantic in just two weeks. Domjan hopes his ambitious, $11.5 million (€8 million) project will prove that boats can travel at high speeds without emitting any carbon dioxide. “[I] want to show that we can change, that solutions exist and that it’s not too late,” Domjan writes on his Web site. “Using technology and our knowledge to better promote renewable energies is the way towards a lasting world.” Planet Solar will be covered in 470 square meters of solar panels — the equivalent of two tennis courts. This means it will have particularly high energy absorption. See more images of the solar-powered boat »

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Twenty-three percent of absorbed sunlight will be converted into energy that the boat can run on, compared with 17 percent for average panels, according to Planet Solar’s project manager, Danny Faigaux of Grand Chelem Management. “The first man sailed around the world 500 years ago and Raphael thought it was about time we did it in a different way,” Faigaux told CNN. But relying purely on solar energy may prove difficult in areas of the world where bad weather prevents sunlight from penetrating the clouds. Batteries on Planet Solar will be able to store enough energy gathered from the sun to allow the boat to sail in poor conditions for three days, said Faigaux. If cloudy weather persists for more than three days, the vessel will run into real difficulties. To avoid this eventuality, the team has partnered with the French meteorological institute, “Meteo France.” The institute will update Planet Solar’s skippers on which routes to avoid.

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Famous French sailor Gerard D’Abouville will skipper the boat alongside Domjan. D’Abouville is the first man to have rowed across both the Atlantic and the Pacific and has long been involved with sustainable development. In April 2011 after a short tour of Europe, Planet Solar will embark on a round-the-world tour, stopping in dozens of cities along the way. Wherever the boat goes, Domjan hopes to teach people about alternative ways of consuming energy. At each port-of-call he plans to set up a portable “educational village” made from inflatable material.

Up to 500 people at any one time will be will be able to visit the village’s three inflatable “spheres” to learn more about Planet Solar, ecology and economy. “This situation is also an opportunity,” said Domjan. “The dilution of our resources and fossil fuels and climate change forces us to rethink our societies.”