Sunday, 7 July 2013

Take My Breath Away: Surfing on the Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse - its not fuel as we know it.

Air travel is often highlighted as a major contributor to the carbon emissions that are driving global warming. With humanity seemingly addicted to air travel which, in the absence of any serious aviation fuel tax anywhere on the planet, is also ludicrously cheap in comparison to less polluting travel options such as railways, the challenge of green air travel has always seemed elusive. While some airlines have dabbled in biofuel development and others have speculated on cleaner fuels, today has however seen a groundbreaking event which, although very much in its infancy, does offer the tantalising prospect that, one day, we may indeed have carbon-free air flights.

The Solar Impulse is an amazing aircraft - an aeroplane fuelled solely by the solar panels on its 63 metres wide wings, and it has just completed its first flight across the continental United States of America. Yesterday, it touched down at John F Kennedy Airport at the end of a two month journey. Its four propellers are powered by some twenty thousand fuel cells and the next challenge is to circumnavigate the planet.

Developed in Switzerland by Bertrand Piccard and his team, the plane is internationally funded by a mix of private and public investment, and can fly day and night without needing any fuel. Obviously, it offers no realistic challenge to carbon-fuelled aircraft, for now. But with enough investment and time, today could eventually mark as seminal a moment as, perhaps, the Wright Brothers' flight on the Kittyhawk, or Bleriot's crossing of the Channel. In a world where traditional fuels are both damaging our worldwide environment and gradually become more expensive as they grew scarcer, the massive, overwhelming power of the ultimate source of pollution-free and completely clean energy, the Sun, as well as offering energy for our homes and workplaces, will provide a revolutionary new way of moving around our planet without choking it to death at the same time.

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