Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 20 November 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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 piercing.

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 said.

“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 world.

Pix: Neelaka Abeyratne



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