Fixing Dirty Aviation: Solar Impulse 2

Houston, We Have a Problem

They say, “traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”. For this reason, traveling is an excellent investment. And yet, when you put your tray table up and your seat back in the full upright position, there’s always that inevitable twinge of guilt because air travel does no favors for the environment. Aviation, at present, is the archenemy of the ozone.

Are we who work to combat climate change just a bunch of hypocrites as we fly across the U.S. to meet business partners, or when we touch down in Colombia to warm our winter bones?

Aviation, you old unsustainable beast, it’s time for your makeover.

I Believe I Can Fly Clean

Enter: Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) – an airplane equipped with a 747’s wingspan covered in solar cells. The plane, piloted by the guy who circumnavigated the globe in a balloon, has trekked around the world over the past year, flying with no fuel.

It’s not a quick vehicle; the technology doesn’t yet exist to make it so. During its flights, the average airspeed was about as fast as a car on surface streets (75 km/h, and recorded a max speed of 216 km/h). But what Si2 lacks in speed, it makes up for in longevity. The airplane’s 4 batteries are charged during flight when the sun shines. At night, the plane taps into stored energy allowing for continuous 24/7 flight. It’s an aircraft that gains energy while flying.

Si2 accomplished a record-breaking flight from Japan to Hawaii, flying for 5 consecutive days and nights.

Airplanes Running on Sunshine? For real?

There’s a cafe in Los Angeles that gets bread FedEx’d in from France and serves tea that originates in Japan. Calculating the amount of CO2 emissions produced to enjoy these tiny luxuries could throw you into a minor depression. But in the future, Solar airplanes could be the perfect vehicles to transport these lightweight delicacies across the globe.

Just 5 years ago, self-driving cars weren’t given a serious thought, and now we’re witnessing the dawn of that age. It’s not so ridiculous to conceive of a near future in which self-manned solar aircraft fill the sky, allowing for completely sustainable travel.

Si2 cannot carry passengers, but that’s not the point. Its purpose is to demonstrate the viability of a clean technology airplane running on renewable energy with perpetual endurance.

Imagine this: a solar airplane touches down in Los Angeles, fully charged after flying in from Texas during the day. You climb into the personal aircraft that you’ve chartered for the evening and take off. Peering out into the sky, you see solar aircraft soaring along at various altitudes. Then you lay back for a snooze, waking to the sunrise over New York City as you come in for a landing. You step out of the plane, guilt-free from causing any environmental harm, ready to take on the day because you didn’t spend the past 5 hours trying to sleep next to a smelly stranger pouring over into your seat.

That sounds WAY better than current red-eye flights.

 

This post was originally sent as part of the Cleantech Rising newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here:www.cleantechrising.com

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Zoheb is the founder of Cleantech Rising, a newsletter delivers information about the latest clean technologies and sustainable innovations. In his work with impact investing funds, Zoheb steers capital towards environmentally sustainable companies around the world. Twitter: @humphreyzogart

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