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'Star trek-like' solar boat to attempt world tour

  • Story Highlights
  • The world's largest and fastest solar boat will soon attempt a round-the-world tour
  • Planet Solar will be ready early next year and will run solely on solar energy
  • An inflatable, educational "village" will follow the boat at every stop to teach ecology
By Anouk Lorie
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The world's largest, fastest fully solar-powered boat is currently being built in preparation for a round-the-world tour.

Planet Solar will be the world's largest and fastest solar-powered boat and is expected to cross the Atlantic in two weeks.

Planet Solar will be the world's largest and fastest solar-powered boat and is expected to cross the Atlantic in two weeks.

The spectacularly futuristic-looking "Planet Solar," which is 100 percent powered by sunlight, is the brainchild of Swiss engineer Raphael Domjan, a former paramedic with a passion for innovative design and renewable energies.

The 35 meter vessel is currently being built in Kiel, Germany and will be finished early next year. If all goes according to plan, the boat will begin sailing summer 2010 -- first in Europe and then around the world.

The boat can travel at up to 14 knots (26k/m) -- the first solar-powered boat to travel at such high speeds. It is projected to cross the Atlantic in just two weeks.

It is Domjan's ambition to show that it is possible for boats to travel at high speeds without emitting any carbon dioxide.

"[I] to show that we can change, that solutions exist and that it's not too late," Domjan writes on his Web site.

"Using technology and our knowledge to better promote renewable energies is the way towards a lasting world."

"Planet Solar" will be covered in 470 square meters of solar panels -- the equivalent of two tennis courts. This means it will have particularly high energy absorption.

Twenty-three percent of absorbed sunlight will be converted into energy that the boat can run on, compared with 17 percent for average panels, according to Danny Faigaux of Grand Chelem Management who is Planet Solar's project manager.

"Raphael Domjan wanted to create something radically different," Faigaux told CNN. ""The first man sailed around the world 500 years ago and Raphael thought it was about time we did it in a different way."

To teach people about alternative ways of consuming energy, a makeshift "village" made from giant, inflatable material, will accompany the boat at every port-of-call. People in the various cities -- up to 500 at any one time -- will be able to visit the three inflatable "spheres" in the village and learn about ecology, economy and about the boat itself.

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At first, Planet Solar's team had a hard time finding funding for their ambitious project. Then they met Immo Stoher, a reputed German investor who "fell in love" with the boat's design and decided to fund the €8 million ($11,5 million) project.

See more images of the impressive solar boat

But relying only on solar energy may prove very hard, maybe impossible, in some parts of the world where bad weather prevents sun light from coming through.

Batteries on the boat will allow it to navigate, even with no sunlight, for three days, said Faigaux. But Planet Solar will still run into real difficulties if it encounters bad weather for more than three days.

"That's why we have partnered with the French meteorological institute, "Meteo France" and they will constantly update the skippers on Planet Solar about the best possible routes to take and those to avoid," Faigaux insisted.

To help Domjan take on these challenges, he asked famous French sailor Gerard D'Abouville to join him on the round-the-world adventure.

D'Abouville, the first man to have crossed both the Atlantic and the Pacific by rowing, gleefully accepted. He has long been involved in questions of sustainable development and said he looks forward to taking part in such a challenge.


The tour in Europe -- going to Hamburg, Paris and London -- will come before the world tour to test shorter distances and for the crew to get accustomed to the boat.

In April 2011, the team will embark on their round-the-world tour, stopping in dozens of cities along the way, with the educational "village" to be set up each time.

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