Solar Impulse 2 Flight-Around-The-World “Without A Drop Of Fuel” In Fact Will Burn Tens Of Thousands of Liters!


Sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft is to circumnavigate the globe “without a drop of fuel”. However it will in fact need thousands of litres of fuel from support planes. Photo credit: Brussels Airport, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

There’s been a fair amount of hype surrounding the Swiss Solar Impulse 2 project where it is being attempted to go around the world in a purely solar-powered aircraft, “without using a drop of [fossil] fuel“. It is being billed as a landmark flight, signifying a milestone in green aviation. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Hat-tip: Reader Konrad.

The fixed-wing aircraft departed Abu Dhabi on March 9 and has since landed in India. From there it will continue to China, Hawaii, Phoenix, New York, Morocco before finally coming full circle back to Abu Dhabi sometime in August, 2015 – “without emitting any climate gases”. Full planned route here.

The pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will alternate as the craft makes a series of stops along its journey. The plane is able to carry only a single pilot and no passengers. The aim: “We want to show what’s possible with innovative technologies,” Piccard boasted.

The 2200-kg pioneering aircraft has a wingspan that is comparable to that of an Airbus A340. According to Wikipedia lithium polymer batteries will store and power 10 hp (7.5 kW) motors with twin-bladed propellers. The upper wings have 11,628 photovoltaic cells. The major design constraint is the capacity of the lithium polymer batteries. See plane specs here.

Of course the entire flight is supposed to be done “solely” using renewable energy from the sun, and not use a single drop of aircraft fuel. But when one examines the flight more closely it turns out that mission indeed involves a huge fossil fuel carbon footprint.

According to an audio report by SRF Swiss Radio and Television the Solar Impulse 2 mission involves the substitute pilot, a technical ground crew “of dozens of people” and tonnes of equipment and logistical supplies that have to be flown behind using conventional charter flights. The “fossil fuel-free” Solar Impulse 2 journey is in fact being made possible only with the use of tens of thousands of litres of aviation fuel. This is a fact that is being almost entirely ignored by the media.

The SRF reporter tells listeners:

It is so that the entire group, the team members, are multiple dozens of men and women, have to fly behind in charter planes. This naturally is the less sustainable aspect of the entire project, but it just isn’t possible any other way. This involves one cargo plane for transporting all the equipment, and a small passenger plane on which the entire group travels to the destinations.”

A promotion video here shows how the aircraft was transported from Europe to its start point in Abu Dhabi earlier this year: With a Boeing 747!


33 responses to “Solar Impulse 2 Flight-Around-The-World “Without A Drop Of Fuel” In Fact Will Burn Tens Of Thousands of Liters!”

  1. oebele bruinsma

    Fossil fuels appear to be the mother of all inventions.

  2. Gentle Tramp

    Also interesting is the fact that this “solar” airplane is actually more a self-launching glider, which flies – first and foremost – thanks to its extra-wide glider-wings and thermal updraft. According to this web-link, a zeppelin would be much more efficient and eco-friendly than this “super-green” propaganda toy:

  3. Forester126

    Matt Ridley put it well
    ” Consider Solar Impulse, the solar-powered airplane now flying around the world. Despite its huge wingspan (similar to a 747), slow speed and frequent stops, the only cargo that it can carry is the pilots themselves. That is a good metaphor for the limitations of renewables.”

  4. Kevin

    The story of this nonsense made it onto every BBC news bulletin, with discussion from their Environment Correspondent, on the day the flight started.

  5. Herve

    Larger than a B-747, unable to carry one single passenger on top of the pilot: The 1903 first Wright airplane was able to carry a passenger !!!!
    A simple glider (invented in 1860) would be better and really doesn’t burn oil at all….

  6. DirkH

    “This naturally is the less sustainable aspect of the entire project, but it just isn’t possible any other way.”

    Oh well then.
    Let’s rephrase that:
    “Naturally, the full fossil fuel capacity of coal power plants is the less sustainable aspect of the German wind turbines, but it just isn’t possible any other way.”

  7. Walter H. Schneider

    The plane is not capable of carrying any cargo.

    1. lemiere jacques

      as ridley said it has a cargo : it is a metaphor.

  8. Radical Rodent

    “We want to show what’s possible with innovative technologies,”

    So, not a lot, in this case. Next!

  9. Joe Chang

    this is a good, interesting aviation achievement, but not relevant to practical matters, and definitely will not contribute to green energy.

  10. John F. Hultquist

    This stunt appears to be supported with Euros and by rich-green-types. Ultimately, then, the not so well off pay via higher costs for the things they need so others can engage in totally useless wastes of both time and money. Good causes are left undone.

  11. Eduardo Ferreyra

    About 6 or 7 years ago there was another solar powered plane doing the same stunt around the world. So, what’s new under the sun?

    1. Ulrich Elkmann

      Actually, it was the same outfit: those plans were loudly announced when the Solar Impulse had its first roll-out in 2009. These people are on the Sustainability Trip and take the Loooong View in matters of progress – just like the Chinese space program & the Clock of the Long Now.

  12. Stephen Richards

    Matt Ridley hit nail. There isn’t an airport wide enough or a material strong enough to make a useable solar aircraft.

    It’s nothing but a very expensive, high co² publicity stunt. I’m not sure if there shouldn’t be a c somewhere in the last word of that sentence.

  13. yonason

    Balancing the energy books, Enron style.

  14. stewgreen

    Em the solar plane is also going to take 5 months !
    “I just looked up the round the world sailing records (zero CO2) and it’s been under 80 days since 2004 and broken several times. Current record set in 2008 is 57.5 days.” TinyCo2 over on BH

    1. AndyG55

      Wasn’t there a movie about going around the world in 80 days… in a hot air balloon !

      Surely they could at least try to improve on a hot air balloon !!

      No !! ??

      1. Mark BESSE

        That was back in 1872. With its reliance on wind mills and sunlight, the green movement appears to be trying to recreate the pre-industrial world.

  15. DICK R

    I will only be impressed when they fly a fully laden aircraft with 500 passengers across the atlantic in normal time at 33,000,000 feet ,land it safely ,then turn it around within a couple of hours and repeat the process.

  16. ktwop

    The batteries are supposed to be fully charged before each flight.
    Are they charged using power from the grid (presumably mainly fossil power)??

    1. StewGreen

      @KTWOP have got something there .
      Plane takes 5 months cos it’s sits on the ground solar charging ..seems like a likely scenario
      ..Surely the batteries are not charged off the mains when no one is looking’s all independently scrutinized is it ?

      1. StewGreen

        “total flight time of around 25 days spread over five months.”

  17. Curious George

    I hope the support team includes a famous chef. These revolutionaries are entitled to world-class meals.

  18. KTWO

    Right about zeppelins being more useful a century ago. Once you show such a device can fly there is little more to demonstrate.

    If only we all used a hydrogen powered wireless mouse; that would save the waste of billions of AAA batteries.

  19. JJM Gommers

    This is an attempt to find the Holy Graal “”Perpetuum mobile””

  20. guess who

    Well, alright…my name is JIM VINCENT and Pierre Gosselin and I were roommates in a dormitory at the University of Arizona a long, long time ago. We have had no contact in more than 30 years

  21. guess who

    I hope to hear from him! I posted the fossil fuel-related comment at the top (climate change/suboceanic volcanic activity rather than fossil fuels) under the name “guess who” for the (I hope) element of surprise.

  22. Random Numbers

    You could make the whole trip in a few days, using a Gulfstream, using less fuel, and carrying more cargo.

  23. Solar toys

    The solar airplane Solar Impluse 2 is an evolution of the original Solar Impluse, with improvements, both in terms of design and materials used. For example, it is using electrolytes that improve the energy density of its batteries and carbon fibers for light weight construction. The main target of the project is to show the importance of the use of solar energy and renewable forms of energy to protect the environment and the restriction of the energy dependence from fossil fuels. Good luck!

    1. DirkH

      They restrict their dependence on fossil fuels by needing a support crew flying around the world in fossil fuel powered jets.

      So… FAIL!

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