Solar-powered boat calls at Colombo
Powered by the sun, a wonderful piece of engineering excellence, is
at present travelling around the world across the equator spreading a
message to save planet earth. This 31 meters long and 15 meters wide
beauty is a wonderful combination of state of the art technology and
desperation to save this living planet.
This is the largest solar boat in the world and this is the world’s
first sea tour on a solar powered boat, named MS Turanor Planetsolar.
This clean and quiet boat named ‘Turanor Planetsolar’ means the power of
the sun is a name inspired by the mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘Lord of
the Rings’ author.
‘Turanor Planetsolar’ started its first circumnavigation on 27
September 2010 from Monaco. And their fifteenth stop-over was Sri Lanka
where they came to the Colombo harbour on November 16. A group of
professionals from the Ministry of Environment headed by Environment
Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa visited the MS Turanor Planetsolar
along with the Ambassador of Switzerland to Sri Lanka Thomas Litscher
and the relevant officers of the Embassy staff. Every theory the solar
catamaran, as the team officially categorise it, is based on promoting
clean energy and clean mobility. “This would be a great inspiration for
countries like ours where we are looking for alternative energy sources
to meet the growing demands of the fast development of the country,”
said Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa addressing the media at the press
briefing held to mark the visit of Planet Solar.
“The ‘Planet Solar team suggested that this technology can be used in
the fishing industry which has a better potential. This could be one
possibility of the future Sri Lanka,” Minister Yapa added.
“This would prove that a cleaner safer planet will be left for our
children and their children with a liveable planet which we are
privileged to live in today,” said the Ambassador of Switzerland Thomas
Litscher speaking at the occasion.
Comparatively Sri Lanka is on a better footing being a very low
carbon emitting country and has been influenced by our culture which
favours an environment friendly sustainable development strategy. Yet
the developed world is struggling with research and innovations to bring
new technology for low carbon emission mechanisms in every aspect of
their lives. In this backdrop, unknown to the public a 39-year-old Swiss
engineer starts thinking about an extraordinary adventure - travelling
with zero carbon emission.
This was in 2004 when the engineer Raphael Domjan, who is also an
enthusiastic nature lover and a strong supporter of clean energy,
started to put his strategic imagination in to practice. As Raphael says
he gained the inspiration by reading novels of Jules Verne – Phileas
Fogg in ‘Around the world in eighty days’!
Yet this was far more than a fiction. It had to brought to reality
and looking for funding through partners remained at that time, not to
mention gathering a similarly enthusiastic group for the project.
Four years later Raphael found a German business partner Immo Stroher
– who is a businessman who showed interest in solar technology for many
years. Soon, their initiative started to create interest among many
other companies and later joined the adventure. After two years of
design and construction the vessel construction became a project with a
participation of physicists, engineers, shipbuilders and sailors from
across the globe. The vessel was designed by Craig Loomes from New
Zealand who has already developed many innovative ships in the world.
As the team explains the engineers had to find solutions to convert
and store energy. Innovative thinking was necessary for the
aerodynamics, the propulsion of the boat and the choice of material. The
design has followed, as the team explained, the concept of wave
After 64,000 construction hours and spending 15 million Euros ‘MS
Turanor Planetsolar’ becomes a reality.
Its total weight was 85,000 kilograms including 20,600 kg of fibre
carbon and 23,000 kg of epoxy resin material 10,000 kg of material and
food on board during navigation with 500 litres of fresh water and 500
litres of salt water.
Generating a maximum power of 120 kilo watts with no use of fuel, it
has two propulsion systems each with two engines per propulsion system.
It has 537 square meters of photovoltaic cells which is 38,000 solar
cells. Vessel’s two propellers are with five tapered blades of two
meters in diameter turning between 100 Revolutions per minute (rpm)
which can go to the maximum of 160 rpm. By stretching wings, the boat
can get an additional solar surface for navigation and can reduce the
size of the boat when mooring or increase the hydrodynamics in the event
of bad weather. The boat showers, lights, fridges etc are powered by
solar energy and only the kitchen operates with gas.
The vessel’s carbon structure is incredibly light weight and durable.
The rear wing can be moved depending on the position of the sun to
maximise the angle of interception of sunlight.
The energy system of the solar panels is optimised by maximum power
point trackers to collect the maximum energy from the solar cells and to
get the best performance specially adapted to the marine environment.
The batteries used are lithium-iron batteries and weighs under two
tons whereas the conventional lead-acid batteries would have weighed
seven times more and lower life duration.
Talking to the over enthusiastic Sri Lankan media team in this Solar
Catamaran (as the team officially call it) Raphael said that this effort
of theirs demonstrates what humans can do with today’s technology. “From
everywhere we have been, there was a great response from the people.
This will be the future energy source to protect the planet,” Raphael
“In this expedition the first view of the Panama channel was one of
the greatest unforgettable moments to me,” he said recalling the
memories of his seafare. The vessel has a four membered crew - i.e. a
captain, an expedition leader, a Bosco and an electriccal engineer.
Raphael is the expedition leader. The Captain Erwaan le Rouzic, Frnech
with his experience in merchant ships for twenty years as a professional
and a cruise ship captain for the past five years is immensely happy
over their team’s performance.
“We produce the energy throughout the day and we maintain it
efficiently to continue navigating in the night as well. During the
night we consume around 20% - 30% of the energy produced and with the
sunrise next day we recharge the batteries while navigating,” he said.
As he explained if it is low sun the vessel has enough energy to last
for three days. “In the more sunny parts of the world energy production
is more efficient. Here in Sri Lanka it is one of the best places to
produce solar energy,” he added.
To the Captain almost everyday in the solar powered boat is an
unforgettable experience. Biding adieu to the media team, the captain
did not forget to mention that his vessel was very efficient in which
the nearly 90 tons weighing vessel was driven by the energy similar to
the amount produced in a Tuk Tuk!
Overall the theme of the vessel juxtaposes with the conventional
short term thinking on destructive profit making development of today’s
Pix: Neelaka Abeyratne