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THE NEXT BIG THING:
In the future, will solar powered transport solve all our problems?
SUN-LOVING CAT TÃ»ranor PlanetSolar is a 100-foot motorized catamaran powered by 30,000 photovoltaic cells whose energy is stored in eight tons of lithium-ion batteries. The boat, with its carbon and epoxy resin hull, circumnavigated the globe in 2012 and continues to sail the seven seas, attempting to break its own solar-powered speed records. (In May, it crossed the Atlantic in a record 22 days.) The boat is also being used as a research vessel; over the summer, it helped gather data about the Gulf Stream. Its zero-emission engine was a big plus when it came to keeping air samples uncontaminated.
WING AND A PRAYER Solar Impulse is a sun-powered airplane with the wingspan of a 747, the weight of a small car, and enough battery storage to fly for up to 36 hours at a time. This summer, the single-seat plane flew from San Francisco to New York with layovers in five major cities. Traveling at a mere 40 miles per hour, the plane was in no danger of setting off sonic booms, but it did turn headsâ€”which was the goal of its Swiss founders and pilots, Bertrand Piccard and AndrÃ© Borschberg. â€œThe success will be if more people on the ground want to do the same as we doâ€”save energy and use renewables,â€ says Piccard. He and Borschberg plan to pilot a second-generation Solar Impulse plane across the globe in 2015.
SUN-DAY DRIVERS Stella, the first solar-powered family car, looks like a cross between a fighter jet, an electric tram, and a flattened 1978 AMC Pacer. Created by students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, the four-passenger car has a carbon and aluminum frame, a roof covered with solar panels, and bonus features like an â€œintuitiveâ€ steering wheel that expands if you are going too fast and contracts if you are going too slow. While not fully solar powered (it also has a small battery), the all-electric Stella gets almost half of its power from the sun and can drive 267 miles on battery alone or 422 miles on sunny days. Elon Musk, look out! —Dashka Slater
Photo by Solar Impulse/Merz/Rezo
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