Bertrand Piccard (right) and Bernd Rothe try the use of parts made from polyurethane rigid foam in the cockpit.
The countdown to the first attempt to fly around the globe without using any fuel has started today, made possible by a plane powered by plastics.
Details of the Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) project, unveiled today by the project’s co-founders and pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, include a number of innovative products and solutions that make the aircraft especially lightweight and energy efficient, including a novel and extremely efficient insulating material for the cockpit from Bayer MaterialScience.
“Solar Impulse is not the first solar airplane, however it is the first able to cross oceans and continents – remaining in the air for several days and nights in a row without landing,” said Borschberg at the launch in Abu Dhabi, where the plane will set off. “But now we have to ensure the sustainability of the pilot in order to complete the route; Solar Impulse 2 must accomplish what no other plane in the history of aviation has achieved - flying without fuel for five consecutive days and nights with only one pilot in the unpressurised cockpit.”
Bayer MaterialScience has been a partner to the Solar Impulse project since 2010. Its high-tech materials are used to both ensure the solo pilot can endure the strains that such flight will impart, as well as being crucial for the design of the plane itself.
One material the company is providing for this purpose is the extremely high-performance insulating material, Baytherm Microcell. Its insulating performance is as much as 10 percent greater than the current standard. Highly efficient insulation is particularly important for the aircraft because it must withstand temperature fluctuations between minus 40 degrees Celsius at night and plus 40 degrees during the day.
“We are proud to contribute to the Solar Impulse project. It impressively demonstrates how our innovations can help preserve the planet and its natural resources, improve people's lives and create value,” said Richard Northcote, Bayer MaterialScience Executive Committee member responsible for sustainability.
Baytherm Microcell is used for the aircraft door, while the rest of the cockpit shell is made of a different type of rigid polyurethane foam from the company. Bayer also supplies a polyurethane/carbon fibre composite material for the door locks, and thin sheets of transparent, high-performance polycarbonate for the window.
Outside the cockpit, rigid polyurethane foam from Bayer MaterialScience is used to insulate the batteries. The company also provides the raw materials for the silvery coating covering large portions of the aircraft and the adhesives that hold the textile fabric in place underneath the wings.
Its involvement in the Solar Impulse project ultimately benefits the further development of key sectors like these. “We can use the aircraft as a flying laboratory to further improve our existing products and solutions, test new things and thus come up with new potential applications,” Northcote added.
The Si2 will take-off from Abu Dhabi, crossing two oceans and four continents, on its five month journey of 32,000 kilometers to complete its round the world flight. The plane weighs only 2.3 tonnes, but has a wingspan equal to that of the largest passenger airliners.
The founders say the Solar Impulse endeavour is designed to prove the enormous potential of clean technologies to protect the natural resources of the planet, as well as the importance of pioneering spirit to create a brighter future. “With our attempt to complete the first solar powered round-the-world flight, we want to demonstrate that clean technology and renewable energy can achieve the impossible,” explained Piccard.