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A Solar Race Around the World 139

garzpacho writes "In Switzerland, two teams are vying to be the first to circle the globe in a solar powered vehicle--one team in a boat, the other in an airplane. The boat, a two person trimaran, is the brainchild of PlanetSolar, who hopes to circumnavigate the world In 80 days. Solar Impulse is fielding the single-pilot plane, which will be capable of taking off under its own power and flying all night. Both groups hope to bring greater attention to solar power, which they believe is more appropriate for alternative transportation than for automobiles."
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A Solar Race Around the World

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  • by mikesd81 ( 518581 ) <mikesd1NO@SPAMverizon.net> on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:32AM (#15323621) Homepage
    To heat and power a house, sure. But to power a vehicle? I'm not sure. Wouldn't that require a lot of energy collecting to get to a decent speed or produce power? I understand that the sun is out for a while so It's an almost constant power sour ce.

    Maybe for a tram system where the power can go to both the engine and the track?
  • Daytime flights (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MagicDude ( 727944 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:37AM (#15323638)
    Solar powered airplanes make a lot of sense, since they fly above the cloud layer. During a day flight, they're exposed to a lot of sun. If plane could use this energy to fly, it could cut down on the amount of fuel required to fly. Obviously you'd carry a full fuel load because you don't want to be caught in a bind if the solar cells fail, but imagine the savings if you could reduce fuel consumption by something like 30% during day flights.
    • Yes, that's exactly what the world needs - Hybrid Jetliners!
      • Yes, that's exactly what the world needs - Hybrid Jetliners!

        I agree ! Add solar to this below and it would be really nice .

        http://www.fuellessflight.com/ [fuellessflight.com]

        Ex-MislTech
        • Bah. that craft requires fuel. It's just that its fuel is an increasingly rare noble gas, whose extraction is linked to fossil fuel production anyway.
          • Excerpt:

            Helium is the second most abundant element in the known Universe .

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium [wikipedia.org]
            • Great. Go on a scavenger hunt round the solar system for some, will you? ;-)

              On a universe scale, hydrogen and helium are the most common elements. But being so light, most planets don't have enough gravity to retain significant quantities of either of them in pure form (and those that do, like Jupiter, aren't ideal for us to live on). Hydrogen is reactive though, so it forms compounds (eg. water), and those compounds are heavy enough to be retained. But helium is unreactive (that's the *definition* of a
      • Well why the hell not? What do you have against saving money, natural resources and the environment?
    • I contend that if you have an interest in promoting alternate fuel sources, you need to avoid the idea of Hybrids.

      The best way for alternative fuel sources to become popular is for them to become economically viable. By buying a hybrid engine (a hybrid car, for example), you are providing downward pressure on fossil fuel demand, and normal supply-and-demand economics tells us that this will provide downward pressure on fuel prices.

      Hybrids are a "half step" toward alternate energy sources. We need full

      • by njh ( 24312 )
        Or everyone might go to war, or we might as a result have to switch to nuclear powered cars and dump radioactivity everywhere.

        Hybrids are an excellent half step because they provide incentive for car companies to improve electrical transmission technology, something we will need if we want to use practically any other energy source. If current theories about oil demand exceeding supply are true (and I can see no reason why they wouldn't be), oil (and thus transportation) prices are going to simply go up.
    • So much for my solar powered submarine.
    • The biggest problem is that the jet engine cannot be powered by electricity - it fundamentally requires combustion to operate. We would need a serious alternative, and propellors just don't cut it for the bigger craft.

      I wonder if ion thrusters work any better...
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:38AM (#15323642) Journal
    My car is under the weather.

    Literally.

  • by yls07 ( 885856 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:39AM (#15323645)

    Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the wind "solar powered"? So humankind has been circumnavigating the globe in "solar-powered" boats for many centuries!

    Note: I know some wind currents are driven by the earth's rotation, but the earth rotates because it's orbiting the sun, right? Still solar-powered! :-)
    • The earth rotates because angular momentum is conserved - its orbit has nothing to do with it. It was spinning when it formed so it'sa gonna keep spinnin 'till something big enough comes along to stop it.
      • It was spinning when it formed so it'sa gonna keep spinnin 'till something big enough comes along to stop it.

        That "something big enough" is already here. It's called tides. The difference in the force of gravity on the near and far side of the moon have locked it into a 1:1 rotation:orbit configuration with the earth. The same will eventually happen with the earth and the sun. Of course, it will take a much longer time, but barring external influences, it will happen.
        • That "something big enough" is already here. It's called tides. The difference in the force of gravity on the near and far side of the moon have locked it into a 1:1 rotation:orbit configuration with the earth. The same will eventually happen with the earth and the sun. Of course, it will take a much longer time, but barring external influences, it will happen.

          Be careful with your wording, here - the moon is tidally locked to the Earth. Earth is NOT tidally locked to the moon. In fact, if Earth WERE tidal
    • Yeah, how about fossil fuels? That's also solar power, stored thousands of years ago by trees.
    • Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the wind "solar powered"? So humankind has been circumnavigating the globe in "solar-powered" boats for many centuries!

      Note: I know some wind currents are driven by the earth's rotation, but the earth rotates because it's orbiting the sun, right? Still solar-powered! :-)


      Well, technically EVERYTHING on Earth exists because of the Sun. Except for the tides, which exist because of the moon. But it exists because of us, and we, again, exist because of the Sun.

      But I totally
    • Then fossil fuels are solar power too. After all they come from the remains of plant eaters (or plant-eaters-eaters) and plants themselves wich grow from sunlight.

      Next time you tank remember, it is all natural.

    • This article was only insightful at primary school.
  • I was thinking about building an automated solar plane that could stay up for weeks, but apparently it's very hard to do with current tech. There was an article a while back about such a plane, but they cheated by using thermals(bubbles of hot rising air heated by the ground) for lift and only stayed up for a couple days. As the energy to weight ratio of batteries improves, it should become easier.
  • links in engilsh (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikesd81 ( 518581 ) <mikesd1NO@SPAMverizon.net> on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:41AM (#15323652) Homepage
    If you want the links in english instead of having to click on the little EN..

    http://www.solar-impulse.com/scripts/page7655.html [solar-impulse.com]

    http://www.planetsolar.org/planetsolar.en.shtml [planetsolar.org]
  • by epp_b ( 944299 )
    ...who hopes to circumnavigate the world In 80 days...

    Does anyone else feel pain when reading that?
  • by charlesbakerharris ( 623282 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:53AM (#15323674)
    ...the single-pilot plane, which will be capable of taking off under its own power and flying all night.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid. Everyone knows solar power is *WAY* more available during the day!

  • Sailboat? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:53AM (#15323677) Homepage
    Wouldn't it be cheaper, faster, and more efficent to just use a sailboat instead of a solar-powered craft?
    • Re:Sailboat? (Score:3, Informative)

      Wouldn't it be cheaper, faster, and more efficent to just use a sailboat instead of a solar-powered craft?

      But not more reliable. Solar panels could be installed inside a hard shell of (say) lexan and easily survive a hurricane.

      Sails and masts are likely to be damaged by the wind.

      • Re:Sailboat? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Plunky ( 929104 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @03:25AM (#15323852)
        But not more reliable. Solar panels could be installed inside a hard shell of (say) lexan and easily survive a hurricane.

        Unfortunately a trimaran covered in solar panels is the worst kind of boat to be in during a hurricane, because its got lots of non removable surface area and its very light. A friend of mine was on board his trimaran during Hurricane Georges [wikipedia.org] in 1998 and he was flipped three times.

        Sails and masts are likely to be damaged by the wind.

        Sails can be removed, and masts are very strong. I was on board my boat during Hurricane Lenny [wikipedia.org] and the strength of the mast and rigging was not an issue. In olden times with weaker rigging it might have been, but they used to take spars down when not in use.

        • Thank god someone with half a brain responded.

          We've been sailing for thousands of years. I would think we've figured out how to do it safely by now, or else we'd have stopped a long time ago.

          A boat covered in solar panels should sound like a terrible idea to anybody who's ever sailed in their lifetime (because it is!)
    • Wouldn't it be cheaper, faster, and more efficent to just use a sailboat instead of a solar-powered craft?

      Sure, but oars are even better. I'll use Americans as oarsmen and let them pay for it. Anyone interested in a weight loss and fitness vacation on sea?
  • Why fly at night? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by imuffin ( 196159 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @01:54AM (#15323681)
    Solar Impulse is fielding the single-pilot plane, which will be capable of taking off under its own power and flying all night.

    If you're flying around the world, couldn't you arrange it so it's always daytime?

    ---
    watch funny commercials [tubespot.com]
    • Possibly not. At the equator, the Earth's rotation speed (and therefore the speed that the day/night line is traveling) is about 1000 miles per hour.

      For a solar power plane to stay in daylight at the equator, it would have to travel at near or above that speed, above mach 1. Not going to happen, at least not with todays techology.

      Sure, at higher lattitudes the needed speed goes down, but you have to get pretty high for it to get low enough, and then you might not be able to race the boat.
      • Re:Why fly at night? (Score:4, Informative)

        by CosmeticLobotamy ( 155360 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @02:10AM (#15323715)
        If you left in the morning and landed at night, you'd only need around 400-ish mph (1000 gets you constant time, 500 gets you 12 hours behind, assume a couple more than that of daylight). But still, that's a hell of a solar plane. The article might say if it can do that, but reading is hard and I don't wanna.
        • If we're talking about the equator, day length does not appreciably vary. Therefore, you can't assume a couple extra hours of daylight; the plane would have to be travelling at 500 mph ground speed (not air speed), which is faster than most commercial jets (the 747, for example, travels at about 539 mph airspeed, but ground speed is reduced depending on altitude). To fly around the world without landing, a solar plane would almost certainly need nighttime capabilities.
    • couldn't you arrange it so it's always daytime?

      Yep, if you start at midday and make sure you're travelling at 1669 kph (Mach 1.7), you'll have the sun overhead for the whole trip. Actually, by starting at sunrise and landing at dusk, you could travel a fair bit slower - about 1100kmh (Mach 1.1), I think. probably not achievable with solar power, but not that far out of reach either.

      • ...about 1100kmh (Mach 1.1), I think. probably not achievable with solar power...

        If your solar power is driving a propeller, M1.1 is most definitely not achievable.

      • Yep... at 25067.455 ( circumference of earth at 70,000 feet alt.) divided by 36 hours (if you fly at equator, giving 12 hours daylight) and start at 70,000 feet, ie: no time lost to ascension

        696.318 mph which is actually mach 0.914755 (yes I'm bored)

  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bm_luethke ( 253362 ) <luethkeb@comcas t . n et> on Saturday May 13, 2006 @02:00AM (#15323693)
    Ok I'm bored and am going to complain about a slashdot summary - yes I know...

    "Both groups hope to bring greater attention to solar power, which they believe is more appropriate for alternative transportation than for automobiles."

    What? That doesn't make any sense. How does a plane flying around the world or a boat floating around the world affect my commute? I don't know about you guys but solar vs gas isn't what stops me from driving a boat or plane to work. That would be cool, commutes would be fun instead of boring traffic, though I bet if everyone did it there would be crashes galore (especially the planes). Plus - why do we have to choose solar power or cars - what I want a solar powered car?

    To be fair, one of the teams (boats), for some reason seems to make this comparison. I doubt there are many places where what they say is feasable. I don't care how effecient solar boats are - I can't drive one to work and I bet very very very few people in the whole freaking world can (of course, there are some - but then I bet alot of them do so to avoid traffic. It's no big deal to hit 60-70 in a boat and no traffic, not to mention the "fun" factor. I know I would do so in a heart beat).

    As to what the parent article said - I don't see why this makes a difference in perception. I find the challenge pretty neat and plan to follow it (no problems there - great geeky/tech story), but making it happen doesn't really change my commute in any way. Jeese, a wind powered boat made a world wide traversal a few hundred years ago (continent to continent a few thousand years ago) - doesn't make wind powered cars any more useful or practical. A solar transversal isn't going to change much either. Again - not that I don't think this is useful or neat (anything that advances our understanding is worth it - I'm fully aware that solving thier problems may lead to some great advances and wish them great success - I want to see our dependancy on oil vanish for a variety of reasons), if thier goal is to raise perception of solar powered commute this isn't the way.

    Back to geeking out - my bet is on the plane. Unless it's *really* slow I can't see it beating the boat. Especially given the plane can fly a fairly straight line (even with air space restrictions) compared to the boat. As to which will be made first - my bet is the boat. If the motor fails you still get to float, a plane loosing power is deadly.
    • That's why you make the plane capable of generating enough lift when already in motion to glide down to a safe landing, should power fail sufficiently to prevent the props from turning. If you look at the linked article for the plane, you'll see the plane has 4 props and a godawful huge wingspan (partly for solar cells, partly for lift, I'm sure).
    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Plunky ( 929104 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @03:44AM (#15323876)
      How does a plane flying around the world or a boat floating around the world affect my commute?

      It captures the attention of the masses, and somebody steps up and says 'I want one of those' and somebody else steps up and says 'I want one something like that' and somebody else steps up and says 'I want one of those!' and the manufacturing of solar panels goes into overdrive and the price comes down and the capability goes up and its affordable to make solar powered buses and the city does that and makes them free for use to cut down on the traffic fumes and all of a sudden your life is better.

      Ok, its just the first step..

      It's no big deal to hit 60-70 in a boat

      Its quite a big deal to reach those kind of speeds in a boat. Its not like getting into a car and putting your foot down, think about what would happen to your car if there were 10cm bumps in the road, and 10cm bumps in the water is nothing.

    • How does a plane flying around the world or a boat floating around the world affect my commute?

      This would depend. In the past airships travled in excess of 120kph. This isn't exactly what one would call super steller in terms of speed, in fact it's about the speed of your average car. But imagine how handy this would be if you combined old airship technology with solar power. You would have the ability to create links between two points without mucking around with making highways, laying rail, or doing
    • To be fair, one of the teams (boats), for some reason seems to make this comparison. I doubt there are many places where what they say is feasable. I don't care how effecient solar boats are - I can't drive one to work and I bet very very very few people in the whole freaking world can (of course, there are some - but then I bet alot of them do so to avoid traffic. It's no big deal to hit 60-70 in a boat and no traffic, not to mention the "fun" factor. I know I would do so in a heart beat).

      Amsterdam with it
  • Lost (Score:2, Funny)

    by smalljs ( 896225 )
    Isn't that how Desmond got stuck on the Island? Maybe we should be tracking these guys...
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @03:10AM (#15323821) Journal
    Didja take a look at that website about the solarplane? All kinds of mumbo about "pushing the envelope", and by the language, it's pretty clear that anything resembling construction is a *long* way off.

    But, any dolt could take a nice, efficient catamaran, replace the sales with a solar rigging and a trolling motor, load the boat down with some MREs, and start sailing.

    Not saying it'd be pleasant, but I'd rather sit on a Hobicat than try to get through the night in an ultralight plane knowing that battery life would just *barely* make it through the night, with almost no margin for error. (and yes, I'm a pilot)

    The kind of aspect ratio [wikipedia.org] they're talking about would be mighty difficult to fly, since it would be very prone to flutter, and the difference between the cruising speed and the stall speed would be almost negligable!

    Not to mention having to be both very lightweight and also very strong...

    Scary!

    Better to fuel up a general aviation craft on butanol [butanol.com] call it "green" and be done with it! Really, when you read up on it, butanol is some seriously cool stuff.

    1) It mixes freely with gasoline

    2) It burns like gasoline, in cars unmodified,

    3) It can be made from corn, wheat, cheese whey, just about any agricultural product or byproduct.

    4) It handles moisture much better than ethanol.

    5) It's possible to extract more energy (in BTU) as butanol from corn then as ethanol.

    Seriously, the fuel of the future for the United States is here, and it's butanol. (Bio-Diesel is probably more appropriate for Europe, where they have many more diesel cars than the US which is almost all gasoline-powered)

    Just as green, and much easier on the pilot!
  • Sorry, but I can't get up the slightest bit of excitement for a "solar" boat... First of all because they've been wind-powered for quite a lot longer than they've been diesel-powered. Secondly, because the ocean doesn't have any minimum speed-limit, so ANY ammount of energy will eventually get them where they are going (like a solar-powered blimp). And last but not least, because boats need a tremendous ammount of maintenance (unlike cars), which is where the bulk of the operating expense is... not the f
  • When I read that title, the first thing I thought of was Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Wind from the Sun," which details a race between space ships driven by solar wind.

    ANYWAY. Haven't first thought of that, I then read the article, and somehow what they're proposing just pales in comparison.
  • If one airplane is above the other one does that mean they might go faster because the light that bounces off the bottom one will hit their plane faster than regular light?
  • I've seen what happens when you enter a solar race...
    you get stuck on some island in the middle of the pacific and have to push some stupid button every 108 minutes...
  • All I can think of of Peter Griffin flying past the kitchen window in a plane, laughing.
  • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:25AM (#15324092) Homepage Journal
    We still seem to be intent on using (costly) manufactured materials to capture the suns energy. We are getting more efficient at it but we are way behind natures own methods.

    What I'd like to see is an "open source" methodology.

    If you want to make something happen in say, Linux, you can look at what someone else has already done, then tweak it to make it do what you need it to do. With our advances in bio-tech, surely there must be a future in bio-engineering some specific plant life to produce high amounts of usable energy. I know that there are bacteria that produce h2 etc. but the scale is insufficient.

    What I imagine is, a plant that converts prodigious amounts of energy (ie bamboo can grow 6 feet in a day) and subverting that energy so that instead of producing growth, it produces a chemical that can be used to directly power an engine of some variety. An engine is defined as something that converts energy into work done.

    In the end, we need a symbiosis to fulfill our transportation requirements. Back in the days, man used a horse or a cow, to pull a cart. The animal got its food from grazing grass which got its energy directly (but not completely) from the sun.

    So why can't we follow that approach ? Utilise a very efficient system that nature has "designed" and subvert it to our own ends. After all, fossil fuels are only stored solar power.
    Taking nanotech into account, it may be possible to create a muscle structure that when it is working generates an amount of electrical current. The muscle would get its "nutrition" from the chemical produced by the bio-engineered plant. The plant would get its energy from the sun. We could foster the initial growth of the plant in the ocean or tanks (for safety) much like an algae bloom, so we would only have to fill our "tanks" with a green goop once a month for example. The extra compounds the plant needs to survive (minerals etc) would be provided by the dead goop we have already used (think ginger beer plant). We still have to utilise the electrical energy more efficiently of course, but our motors are getting pretty good.

    I realise this is all probably very naive, and I'm not a scientist in any way, at all ! But it seems to me that all our thinking has been towards shortcuts, ie. sun -> solar panel -> power instead of taking the natural route of sun -> plant -> food -> animal -> power.
    We need to aim at creating a living system.

    Maybe I'm talking out of my ninth planet, but the saying "haste makes waste" seems to apply as solar panels aren't very efficient.

    Of course, you could say that my ideal involves many more stages and so is less efficient, but each stage would be as close to maximum efficiency as nature has got to already.

    I'll get my coat.

    • sun -> plant -> food -> animal -> power

      is WAY WAY less efficient than

      sun -> solar panel -> power.

      sun->plant is something like 1.5% efficient, and still needs to be converted somehow to perform useful work. Compare that to even crappy solar panels of 8% efficiency, where the output is something we can use directly.
      • You've skipped a few details there...

        Sun -> solar panel -> power

        is actually:

        Sun + Man's total energy expended creating Solar Panel -> Solar Panel -> Power

        Yes plants often require man's intervention on some level for efficiency as well but it's a lot less than that required for a solar panel, which is why solar panels are much more expensive to produce than a plant.

        Animals that eat plants do a fair job of converting them to useful energy, which is then available for us to convert to even more use
  • Clorophyl the stuff you see in the leaves of most plants use sunlight to generate energy. In fact, the plants have mastered the art of converting sunlight to energy which helps them grow. Why not use the same thing to power our machines ?
  • Given that fossil fuels are just biologically condensed solar power, I'm not sure there's room for a "first" here.

    For that matter, wind is driven by differential heating of the Earth's atmosphere by the Sun, so Magellan might have a claim on being first with the boat variant.

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