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Solar boat uses 500 m2 of PV panels

The world’s largest solar powered boat will launch next month and travel around the world in 2011.

PlanetSolar SA of Switzerland unveiled the €18 million catamaran last month at the Knierim Yachtbau shipyard in the northern German city of Kiel. The 31 m x 15 m solar powered craft took 13 months to build.

The multlihull vessel is topped with 38,000 solar panels from SunPower, which claim a conversion efficiency of 22%. The solar panels will capture 103.4 kW of energy, although the engine needs only 20 kW.

“We are proud to support the unveiling of the world's largest solar boat,” says Jorn Jurgens of SunPower. "SunPower's technology will enable the catamaran to circumnavigate the globe with the speed and performance expected from the planet's most powerful solar."

Innovative battery storage

Using an innovative lithium ion battery that is being tested by a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, the solar boat has planned a global tour next year that will cruise at an average speed of 8 knot (25 km/h) but can reach a top speed of 15 knot.

The 60 tonne vessel can hold 50 passengers but the trans-world voyage will be handled by skipper Raphael Domjan of Switzerland, the 37-year-old founder of Planet Solar, and navigator Gerard d’Aboville of France, who was first sailor to row the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to being the fastest solar boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean, it will be the first to cross both the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Demonstrate potential of solar for shipping

The project is designed to demonstrate how solar propulsion could displace conventional fuels used to transport goods by 90,000 ships. The shipping industry transports 90% of the world’s goods and emits 1.4 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, twice the quantity of air transport, and the United Nations Environment Programme predicts this will grow by 70% by 2020 as global trade expands.

Domjan conceptualised the solar-powered vessel in 2004 and construction started early in 2008. The project is funded by Rivendell Holding AG, a Swiss firm that invests in renewable energy.

Global tour

After launching in April, the boat will make a public appearance at celebrations for the port of Hamburg in May, followed by sea trials until September. In 2011, it will take four months to circumnavigate 40,000 km, departing from France to the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean back to Marseilles.

The solar boat will stop in New York, Shanghai, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Monaco, among other cities, for promotional purposes.

The solar catamaran ‘Sun 21' crossed the Atlantic in 29 days and a number of shipping companies install solar panels to supplement conventional power systems. Nippon of Japan launched the Auriga Leader in 2008 with 328 solar panels that can generate 40 kW, or 10% of the energy used while the ship is docked.

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Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets