While the prospect of solar-powered drones flying above our heads steals the headlines, there’s an eco-friendly seafaring monster that’s quietly breaking records.
Last week, The Turanor Planet Solar, a giant catamaran covered in solar panels, pulled into London after completing a three-month journey along the Atlantic’s warm Gulf Stream. A team of scientists, led by University of Geneva climatologist Martin Beniston, used the boat to examine water and air samples as part of climate-change research. “The fact that the boat doesn’t create any pollutants means what we measure is as natural as possible,” Beniston told CNN.
The Turanor, which is exclusively powered by the sun, has already chalked up several feats. On May 4, 2012, it completed a 584-day, 37,000-mile (60,000 km) circumnavigation. And earlier this year, the boat made the fastest solar-powered crossing of the Atlantic, cruising from Spain to the West Indies in a mere 22 days, shattering its own previous record by four days.
The boat is the brainchild of environmentally conscious adventurer Raphael Domjam, and was designed by New Zealand nautical architecture firm LOMOcean Design and built by German shipyard Knierim Yachtbaut. Completed in 2010, it measures 35 meters (115 feet) in length (catamarans over 100 feet long are referred to as “super” or “mega” catamarans), 23 meters in width, and weighs a whopping 95 tonnes (105 tons). It’s equipped with more than 800 solar panels, each of which can support the weight of a human, and which charge gargantuan lithium-ion batteries that are hidden inside the boat’s twin hulls and power its two electric motors. When fully charged, the batteries can run the engines for 72 hours without sun.
Unfortunately, that’s still too short a time to make the boat commercially practical. It’s also too big and slow. But for when you need an emissions-free ride, it has its uses.