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The goal of the PlanetSolar adventure, and an adventure it most certainly is, is to succeed in the first circumnavigation of the globe in a "solar” boat, i.e.: one powered by silent, nonpolluting electric motors, run exclusively on solar power.
(Published on February-March 2010 – JEC Magazine #55)
The finishing touches to the construction of the world’s largest solar-powered boat are being made at the Knierim Yachtbau shipyard in Kiel, Germany. The boat is due to be unveiled to the world on February 25. Its construction will have taken barely a year to complete.
A European tour of boat and village is planned from May to October 2010, with the round-the-world trip scheduled to begin in April 2011, starting in the Mediterranean. This first solar global circumnavigation will take place from East to West, along an equatorial route, and is due to last 140 days. The two sailors onboard PlanetSolar will cross the Atlantic Ocean, the Panama Canal, the Pacific and Indian Oceans and finally the Suez Canal, returning to the Mediterranean. This enterprise has necessitated technological developments in many fields, such as the production of composite materials and structures and the production and storage of photovoltaic energy (electricity).
An educational agenda
Our society depends on energy derived from fossil fuels, which we know to be finite and the effects of which can today be measured in the effects on the atmosphere. PlanetSolar is designed to demonstrate the potential offered by renewable energies in the field of mobility. The preservation of the planet via the promotion of solar power, energy efficiency and sustainable mobility is therefore the central focus of the project. This represents a superb opportunity to inform the general public and raise general awareness about the importance of renewable energies. Between each leg of the voyage, the itinerant village accompanying the boat will be there to promote solar energy and sustainable development. Promotional boat trips are also planned to be laid on at each stopover.
A floating test lab
PlanetSolar is a revolutionary catamaran, 30m in length by 16m wide, carrying 470m² of photovoltaic solar panels. Construction began in January 2009 following tests in November 2008 in the towing tank and wind tunnel of the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania. These tests were used to validate the computer analyses and simulations.
Extensive research made it possible to determine the ideal dimensions and shapes with respect to the itinerary. This majestic-looking multihull is silent and clean. The objective is to sail at an average speed of 8 knots right around the world: pretty fast for a boat running on solar power alone. Raphaël Domjan, initiator of the project, will be the boat's skipper, alongside the famous French sailor, Gérard d’Aboville. During this voyage they will have to constantly optimise their route and speed according to the sunshine conditions and the medium-term weather forecasts.
JEC Composites Magazine: Which parts of the boat are made of composites?
The entire boat is built from composites. The half hulls, main hull, structural components and legs are made of carbon fibre supplied by SGL Carbon. The core material is mostly PVC foam supplied by Alcan/Airex.
JCM: Why was it interesting to use composites?
The goal was to create a boat with a lot of surface area for solar panels. However, the design had to be very efficient and very light due to the limited energy supply. Composite materials were the only way to fulfil these requirements.
JCM: What materials and processes did you use?
We used Sigrafil C30 carbon fibre supplied by SGL Carbon in the form of unidirectional and +/-45° biaxial fibres and 12k T700 cloth, as well as PVC and PET foam from Alcan Airex, and Ampreg 22 resin supplied by Gurit. The main components (hull, deck, legs, fairings) were built in female tools and the half hulls were produced over a male mould. A wet lay-up process followed by a vacuum consolidation step was used for the construction.
JCM: Is it a carbon sandwich construction?
Yes, it is.
JCM: Do you work in other areas outside boatbuilding?
Knierim Yachtbau GmbH is also working for industrial customers providing composite components to the wind industry, aircraft industry, etc. Our company operates three large 5-axis milling machines that produce master plugs for the windmill industry, direct female tools for navy parts, and arts. Our offer ranges from master plugs to prototype moulds for large composite components produced by infusion, prepreg or wet lay-up processes.
JCM: What part of the project was entrusted to your subsidiary Knierim Tooling?
Knierim Tooling GmbH machined all the female tools for the hull, deck, fairings, bridge pod, etc.
A boat yard specialised in composites
The DoKaSch lw-65 ULDs with rigid RP10 panels replace aluminium sheets and are constructed using the same proven structural extrusion framework. As RP10 panels are up to four times stronger than aluminium sheets, the ULD is extremely tough, strong and durable. In addition, it shows excellent resistance to heavy impacts and general wear and tear, which helps lower maintenance and repair costs by as much as 50% per year. The lightweight RP10 panels have excellent adhesion properties, allowing IATA code stickers to be applied more easily and securely.
This avoids damage or loss of labelling. The DoKaSch lw-65 ULD can also be manufactured in any airline colour, which allows for easy identification. In addition, the panels display exceptional colour and mechanical stability over their service life and are also FAR 25.853 certified.
Based in Switzerland, PlanetSolar is an international project that brings together a team composed of physicists, engineers, boatbuilders and various parties committed to environmental protection. This technological and human adventure has attracted many partners and sponsors. These include, among the official suppliers, Autodesk which supplied the software used in designing the boat and Alcan Composites Core Materials, a specialist in sandwich technology.