Air travel and the continuous increase of numbers of passengers and planes in the sky has long been cited as one of the contributing factors to global warming. Airplanes fly high in the sky meaning that any greenhouse gases they are producing are immediately sent into the upper layers of the atmosphere, potentially increasing their harmful effects.
Emissions from aircrafts are not only harmful for our planet but also have some in your face side effects that impact us more directly. A report published in the science journal Nature Climate Change forecasts that increasing CO2 levels will result in a significant increase in in-flight turbulence experienced by trans-Atlantic airline flights the middle of the 21st century. A 50% increase in fact. Now that is a very real and scary prospect indeed.
Enter Solar Impulse II – at this very moment, the world’s first ever Earth circumnavigation by a solar plane is taking place. The Solar Impulse II, a fully solar powered aircraft took off from Abu Dhabi on March 9th. Solar Impulse II has the wingspan of a 747 to support the 17,000 solar cells that it uses for energy. Despite this, it weighs only the size of an average car. The plane can fly night or day as, during the day, the solar panels charge rechargeable lithium batteries. Not a single drop of fossil fuel is required.
It is making several stops on its journey around the world and is currently in Ahmedabad, India. You can keep up with the progress of Solar Impulse II here:
This website allows anyone around the world to read updates from the crew, watch live take off and landings and check out where the plane is in real time. In addition, the crew post updates and information about other solar projects happening in the countries that they visit. For example, when I looked today, there was a post about solar wells in India. Another amazing idea!
Of course, at the moment, the Solar Impulse II is one of a kind, and a fair way from being a production ready commercial airliner. The concept though, that we could potentially use solar power to travel in the future, is an exciting one.