In the spring of 2004 Raphael Domjan, a Swiss electrical engineer, conceived of a borderline insane idea -- to travel around the world aboard a ship powered entirely by solar energy.
It would be an adventure and a statement. If he could do it, he would prove to the world that there are other alternatives to powering sea travel besides fossil fuels and wind. It would also demonstrate just what solar power is capable of.
In 2008 he formed a partnership with German entrepreneur Immo Stroeher, who helped provide the funds to make this idea possible.
And now, eight years later, Domjan's dream is a reality: On Friday, the solar-powered MS Turanor PlanetSolar catamaran pulled into port in Monaco after completing a 37,294-mile journey around the world.
"We have shown that we have the technologies as well as the knowledge to become sustainable and safeguard our blue planet," Domjan said in a statement.
The ship, designed by New Zealander Craig Loomes, is made of a durable lightweight carbon material and is covered with 38,000 solar cells that feed power to six blocks of lithium-ion batteries.
"Each new sunrise provides the catamaran with the light needed to continue its journey," the PlanetSolar team wrote on its website.
It took the 115-foot boat 584 days -- roughly 19 month -- to make it all around the world. That is admittedly not a super-fast pace.
But there were stops along the way to promote solar power and even an encounter with pirates. There was also some waiting for the sun to come up to power those lithium batteries.
Now that the Domjan has completed his mission, he and the team at PlanetSolar will have to figure out what do with the ship.
"We are considering renting out the boat for scientific or commercial uses or even selling it," Stroeher told Wired. "We are open for ideas and in talks with interested parties -- from the use as a 'green' luxury yacht to scientific usages and the utilization as the world’s largest mobile solar power battery, everything is possible."
PlanetEarth Solar-Powered Catamaran SPECIFICATIONS
The PlanetSolar is a solar-powered vessel built by Knierim Yachtbau, in Kiel, Germany for Switzerland-based PlanetSolar. It is the biggest solar boat ever built. The solar powered craft is topped by a large array of photovoltaic panels.
The boat was designed to circumnavigate the world. It was the first multi-hull vessel to sail around the world using solar energy. The voyage began in 2011. A distance of more than 50,000km was covered in 160 days at an average speed of 8kt. The boat set sail from Marseilles and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the Panama Canal, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal to join the Mediterranean.
PlanetSolar was christened and launched in March 2010. The solar boat made its first voyage off Kiel in April 2010. It was initially stationed in the waters of the Baltic Sea to complete a test phase.
Length: 31 meters
Beam: 15 meters
(23 meters when solar panel "flaps" are deployed)
Draft: 1.55 meters
Height Above Waterline: 6.10 meters
Deadweight: 85 metric tonnes
Max Speed: 14 knots
Max Crew & Personnel: 4 crew, 50 personnel
(on its world voyage)
Solar Generator: 93.5 kW
Max Efficiency: 18.8%
Lithium Ion (NCA)
Voltage: 388 VDC
Capacity: 2910 Ah
First Voyage: April 2010
The solar-powered boat was designed by Auckland-based naval architecture and yacht design company LOMOcean Design. The design phase included the successful comprehensive test programme involving towing tank tests in calm water and waves. The ship design incorporates a main hull featuring two hydrodynamic floats.
The top of the boat is surfaced with 127 photovoltaic modules covering 537m². The power generated by the modules is stored in Lithium Ion (NCA) batteries. The 648 cells installed in the boat weigh about 11t. The board battery banks have an efficiency of over 95% and deliver electricity to the electric motors in each demi-hull.
Swiss Rivendell Holding funded the construction of the boat amounting to €12.5m. The construction began in January 2009 at the shipyard Knierim Yachtbau in Kiel and took 14 months to complete.
"The top of the PlanetSolar is surfaced with 127 photovoltaic modules covering 537m²."
Around 100 personnel were involved in the shipbuilding. The boat is made of carbon-fibre epoxy sandwich materials. About 20.6t of steel, 11.5t of sandwich core and 23t of Epoxy Resin and Hardener are used in the construction.
The project was supported by the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Land Settlement.
The photovoltaic modules are supplied by the Immo Ströher. Autodesk provided the technology to create 2D and 3D plans of the boat.
The solar-powered catamaran demonstrated highest efficiency during the towing tank tests conducted at the Australian Maritime College in calm water and waves. The wind tunnel tests also proved successful. The displacement during the circumnavigation was 65t, further it was increased to a displacement of 85t to serve as a luxury yacht.
The PlanetSolar is powered by four high-efficiency electrical permanent magnet synchronous motors driving five-bladed carbon fibre propellers through two drive shafts. Four motors develop a total power output of up to 176kW (239bhp), of which about 20kW per hour is consumed at cruising speed.
The backup power is utilised at night and during rains. The advanced lithium-ion batteries can store up to 1.3MW of solar energy under deck. The boat is equipped with a rudderless steering system. Each propeller supplied by AIR has a diameter of 2m and rotates at a maximum speed of 160rpm.