Solar-Powered, Zero-Emissions Airplane Begins Cross-Country Journey

Automobile manufacturers aren't the only members of the transportation industry who are trying to develop more environmentally friendly products. One of the biggest stories in aviation of the past few years has been the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which was constructed out of composite materials to make it lighter, and consequently more fuel-efficient. Another development in the industry has been the integration of solar power into aircraft technology, which has the massive benefit of producing zero emissions but the drawback of requiring a great deal of surface area to collect sunlight.

While it's still probably many years away from being adopted into the production of passenger and cargo jets, we should celebrate the announcement that a solar-powered airplane, The Solar Impulse, is making its way across the country. Two Swiss aviation experts, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, who helped design the vehicle, will be taking turns flying it from coast to coast.

The trip is broken into four legs, with the first being from San Francisco to Phoenix. That flight was successfully completed on Friday, May 3. The Solar Impulse will now make its way from Phoenix to Dallas, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. over the course of about a month.

The aircraft weighs a total of 1.75 tons, with the batteries accounting for about 880 lbs. – or about a quarter of that amount. They allow the aircraft to fly at night. It features 12,000 solar cells which cover the wings and tail stabilizer.

This is not, however, the first flight of a solar plane. That took place in 2010, followed by the first international solar flight in 2011.

It remains to be seen whether this is a viable technology, but it does show that solar cells have come a long way in terms of efficiency and cost if they can be used to power such a heavy object through the air. will keep you posted on further developments in renewable energy technology.

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