Around the world on solar rays (and Kiwi ingenuity)

By Jarrod Booker

The world's largest solar boat has 537sq m of solar panels, lithium ion batteries and high efficiency electric motors. Photo / Supplied
The world's largest solar boat has 537sq m of solar panels, lithium ion batteries and high efficiency electric motors. Photo / Supplied

A New Zealand firm is enjoying its moment in the sun after a vessel it designed became the first to travel around the world on solar energy.

Auckland-based LOMOcean Design has thrust into the forefront of the global clean energy movement with the innovative design that enabled the MS Turanor PlanetSolar to be the first vehicle to complete a circumnavigation without using wind or fossil fuels.

The catamaran finished the 60,019km journey in Monaco last week after 584 days of travel.

It required just 23 kilowatts of power to drive the 90 tonne vessel at 6 knots - it would take more than double that power to air condition the boat.

"We were given a very small amount of power, and we had to make this thing go around the world," said LOMOcean Design director Andre Moltschaniwskyj.

"We think Turanor PlanetSolar is another Kiwi maritime and technological triumph of historic importance.

"The boat may have been built in Germany and crewed by French, Swiss and Germans, but the smart thinking that made it a reality happened in New Zealand and we are very proud of that."

The mission was the brainchild of Swiss engineer Raphael Domjan, who worked with German businessman Immo Stroher and LOMOcean Design to create the vessel launched in March 2010 in the shipyards of Germany's Knierim Yachtbau.

Mr Moltschaniwskyj and his colleagues had to come up with the optimal design for the light carbon vessel and incorporate 537sq m of solar panels, lithium ion batteries, high efficiency electric motors and a propulsion system.

"The major design challenge was to take a relatively tiny and inconsistent supply of energy and as efficiently as possible convert that energy into propelling the boat across oceans."

When the sun was not out, the vessel had to rely on what energy was stored in its batteries or wait for the sun to come out again to recharge.

Mr Moltschaniwskyj said his firm wanted to build interest in the likes of short-haul ferries that used a combination of solar and wind power "to highlight that you don't need to burn diesel".

"In terms of using solar power for significant transport ... it's still very much in its infancy.

"There is a very, very small amount of electricity available, so you have to learn how to use it very wisely."

A lack of sunshine hours was one of the reasons the Turanor PlanetSolar did not visit Auckland on its journey around the world - it went only as far south as Brisbane.

Now that the Turanor PlanetSolar's mission is complete, it may be used for scientific purposes or even sold as a luxury 'green' yacht.

VITAL STATISTICS

* Name: MS Turanor Planetsolar
* Length: 31 metres (35m with flaps)
* Width: 15m (23m with flaps)
* Weight: 95 tonnes
* Surface area of solar modules: 537m2
* Average engine consumption: 20 kilowatts (26.8 HP)
* Crew: 4 persons
* Number of people that can go on board: 40.

- NZ Herald

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