Published on March 18th, 2015 | by Mridul Chadha1
Technology That Makes The Solar Impulse 2 Fly
March 18th, 2015 by Mridul Chadha
Solar Impulse 2 has reached the first major stop, India, in its landmark flight around the world. As it plans flight to the next major stop, China, here’s a look at the technology behind this extraordinary aircraft, backed by major technology partners Solvay, ABB, and Bayer.
At a press event held in Abu Dhabi about a month before the Solar Impulse 2 took off officials from these companies briefed the press about their technological contributions to this project.
Solvay worked on 13 applications and provide about 6,000 parts for Solar Impulse 2. The major area of work was the external structure of the plane. The company used light-weight honeycomb structure in the wings which limits the aircraft weight to just 1,600 kg. Solvay also worked on the photovoltaic panels that cover the wingspan. Commercially available solar panels are thin and brittle, which would have been practically useless for the Solar Impulse 2, so Solvay developed a new encapsulation process to make the panels useable on the aircraft and covered them with a film to withstand extreme temperature and pressure.
Maxine Ghavi, Program Director for Microgrids at ABB, elaborated on her company’s contribution to the Solar Impulse 2 program. ABB engineers are working with the propulsion and electrical team of Solar Impulse 2. These engineers have worked on processes to harness maximum energy from the solar cells and control systems for an unplanned landing.
Bayer Material Science
Bayer worked on the materials used in building the aircraft. The company provided polycarbonate windows for the cockpit, which are flexible (easier to work with), durable, and allow diffused sunlight into the cockpit. The aircraft has an insulation layer to keep the inside temperature optimum. Bayer Material Science’s Chief Sustainability Officer Richard Northcote also shared some of the green initiatives undertaken by his company. The company has set a target to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2020. It has also set up a plant in Germany that would convert carbon dioxide emissions into seats.
Another important partner to the Solar Impulse 2 project is Swiss Re Corporate. The company is not a technology partner but provides support in one of the most critical areas of the project — insurance. The company wants to indicate that the insurance companies are ready to help power companies and other power sector stakeholders to adopt clean energy on a large-scale and support emerging clean energy technologies.
The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft will not just be a vehicle to deliver the message of sustainability and increased use of clean energy around the world, but will also act as a technology demonstrator of all the applications that the partner companies have provided.
Solar cell application provided by Solvay may help improving the energy we harvest from solar cells in the future. Extended use of batteries on the aircraft would provide insights about how to get the maximum out of them while reducing demand for electricity. Bayer plans to use the insulation layer technology in homes across developing countries.