On Thursday, the covers were taken off PlanetSolar, a multi-hulled vessel, powered entirely by up to 500 square metres of photovoltaic solar panels. It is considered to be the world's largest solar boat.
The 31-meter-long and 15-meter-wide craft is expected to be able capture 103.4 kW of solar energy to drive its engine which apparently only needs 20kW, to achieve an average speed of eight knots (15kph or 9mph). Although it is hoped it can also attain a top speed of roughly twice that. While it is impressive that the PlanetSolar can achieve all its propulsion with just sunlight, at those speeds the global circumnavigation planned for 2011 might take a wee while to complete.
The 60 tonne catamaran (or is that trimaran?) has cost 18 million euro ($24.4 million USD) to create at the Knierim Yacht Club in Kiel in northern Germany and will be launched waterside next month with sea trials due between June and September. To achieve to full photovoltaic capture there are solar covered flaps that are extended at the stern and amidships.
SunPower  has provided approximately 38,000 of their next generation all black photovoltaic cells, an efficiency of at least 22%, which they believe to be the highest efficiency solar cells commercially available. Maybe it's buried somewhere on the PlanetSolar site, but I missed what storage medium the boat will use once it has harnessed the sun's energy.
The projects was conceived by Raphaël Domjan, a 38-year-old Swiss man, who with Frenchman Gérard d'Aboville, (the first person to successfully row the Atlantic Ocean) will skipper the PlanetSolar around the world next year to showcase the practicalities of photovoltaic technology. Stopovers on the East-West journey are expected to include: Hamburg, London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi.
Although not intended to replace conventional watercraft, the PlanetSolar team do note that it was boats that allowed the first great explorations of our world. But with the first boat dating back more than 10,000 years we seem to have forgotten how clean such transport can be. "Today," they suggest, "the boat is the most used means of transport of goods. It represents single-handedly almost 1,4 billions of tons of carbon dioxide (in 2008), that is 6% of the total carbon dioxide emissions and twice more than the air transport."
[Via our friends at Treehugger ]
[Images by The Age ]