Last week, Swiss explorers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, from Solar Impulse 2 (Si2), launched their attempt to become the first explorers to "circumnavigate the world using only the sun's energy, demonstrating the power of clean technology," United Arab Emirates Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar, H.E. Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, said.
The plane took off from Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, on March 9 and completed its first leg of the journey by landing in Muscat, Oman. The plane then continued on to the cities of Ahmedabad and Varanasi in India.
Si2 will soon travel to Mandalay, Myanmar, before continuing on its journey, which is expected to take approximately five months. Planned stops include several cities in China before crossing the Pacific and stopping in multiple U.S. cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, and New York City.
The goal of this journey does not focus on speed or money, but rather "demonstrating the importance of renewable energy conceived through a pioneering spirit and innovation," according to a press release.
Piccard, initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse, and Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse, started this project in 2003 in order to find a way to generate enthusiasm about renewable energy sources and products that will reduce fossil fuels around the world. They made it their mission to prove that modern technology can be adapted in a way that will not contribute further to pollution.
The ultimate goal of this flight, and part of the reason for its timing, is to "confront the Conference of Climate Change of the United Nations, which will define the new Kyoto protocol in December 2015 in Paris," according to Borschberg and Piccard.
Although this project was never solely focused on aviation innovation, Solar Impulse broke several Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) records.
A lot of effort went into the construction of Si2. It was a 12-year process to get the plane to where it is today. One reason for this is that the plane has unique, energy-efficient technology unlike any other prototypes.
The wings of the plane, which have a larger wingspan than a Boeing 747, are completely covered with over 17,000 solar cells that are the thickness of an average human hair. During the day, the plane will reach an altitude of approximately 8,500 meters (28,000 feet) to catch the sun's rays. The energy from the sun will then be stored to be used overnight when it dips down to 1,500 meters (5,000 feet).
Other energy-efficient technologies included on the plane are motors that have only a 3 percent energy loss as opposed to the 70 percent in normal thermal motors, and lighting done by 16 LED lights that consume less than two bedside lamp-bulbs.
The plane is expected to finish its journey sometime in July, with the hope of "achieving the impossible" by showing that future can be both innovative and green, according to Piccard and Borscberg.
Construction of Solar Impulse 2, the Round-The-World Solar Airplane