Europe houses many projects ranging from the Truro-Falmouth Maritime Line in the United Kingdom to the Szombathely waste water treatment plant in Hungary; though important projects in their own right, they fall short in inspiration. With the world facing economic turmoil, people look to science to recharge their imagination as “men know that without hope they cannot really live”. We find this hope in sustainable projects like the Solar Impulse.
Envision flying round the world without fossil fuel or pollution; though currently this may seem an impossible feat, a team of Swiss adventurers, Dr Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, are looking to make it reality. The Solar Impulse, undertaken at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, is a long-range solar powered plane project which aims to be the world’s first airplane to fly day and night around the world propelled only by solar energy. In July 2010, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA made history by becoming the first solar-powered airplane to fly through a complete daylight cycle, thereby establishing 3 World Records. To make this impossible possible, however, important design decisions were made during development of the aircraft; this is where polyurethane presented its worth.
The prototype, as well as its successor the HB-SIB, was supported with technical expertise from the world of polyurethane. By including high-tech polymer materials and energy-saving lightweight solutions, including carbon nano-technology, innovative polyurethane adhesives and lightweight polyurethane foams, in addition to extremely thin, unbreakable polycarbonate films for the cockpit glazing, the Solar Impulse project has become the next step in a rich history of memorable aeronautical engineering pinnacles over the past century as never before had an airplane succeeded in flying with the size, weight and speed dimensions of the Solar Impulse. The HB-SIB is expected to be completed over the next year, its objective to circle the world in 25 days (5 legs of 5 days each) at an average speed of 70 km/h. This flight is currently scheduled to take place in 2013.
With more than two in three Europeans seeing climate change as a very serious problem according to the latest Eurobarometer, the Solar Impulse is not only awe inspiring with its goal of perpetual flight but also with its environmental potential. We, as we hope you, look forward to seeing how polyurethanes help further shape not only the world of aviation but our world in general.