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A shining example of solar potential

A group of Swiss investors and German engineers, have created the world's largest solar-powered boat and a striking glimpse into the future of marine travel. Add some design expertise from New Zealand and you have the MS Turanor PlanetSolar.

Rachel Bros de Puechredon of PlanetSolar commented "The idea was to demonstrate the enormous potential of solar power by circumnavigating the globe."

And with 60,000km successfully navigated, the team have achieved precisely that.

The Turanor uses energy harnessed from more than 500 sq m of solar panels to drive two, 60kW electric engines, each in turn driving a standard propeller. They are capable of pushing the 35m catamaran to a top speed of 14 knots.

To boost power when the sun is weak or hiding, the boat holds eight tonnes of lithium ion batteries, capable of powering the vessel for three days when dark clouds shade the ocean skies.

The most important numbers, however, are the smallest - the Turanor uses zero gallons of fuel and emits almost no carbon dioxide.

Gerard d'Aboville captain of the vessel added "Captaining the Turanor is a little bit special. You have to use a lot of foresight, constantly checking the weather and choosing your speed to coincide with the sun. You must always think well in advance.”

But Turanor's journey did not end with its circumnavigation of the world. Its emission-free propulsion gives the scientific community a rare opportunity to conduct important deep-water research.

PlanetSolar teamed up with the University of Geneva to lead an expedition to study the Gulf Stream - which runs up the east coast of America and across the Atlantic to Ireland - and how changes within it are affecting global temperatures.

Prof Martin Beniston, chair for climate change at the university commented, "To be able to spend several months studying the whole length of the stream in such a boat is unique.”

This clean data, focusing both on the role of organisms living in vortexes within the stream and on the impact of aerosols released by it, suggest that oceans may play a much greater role in climate change than previously thought.

The boat also helped "communicate the science to the general public", says Prof Beniston. "The interest generated [by Turanor] has been amazing - we really weren't expecting so much public and media attention."

The team has now signed a five-year contract with PlanetSolar and is planning to go back across the Atlantic to Rio to study the impact of Saharan dust on the ocean.

By demonstrating that the sun alone can power a 100-tonne boat to circumnavigate the world, the MS Turanor PlanetSolar has proved just how far solar power has come.

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