Advanced materials speed solar plane

Nanotubes are likely to form a crucial part of the Swiss Solar Impulse round the world plane project.

Bayer MaterialScience, which makes them commercially under the name 'Baytubes' is now an official partner of the project, which aims to send a piloted aircraft round the world, powered only by solar photovoltaic cells.

12,000 such cells cover its upper surfaces to power four electric motors, driving propellers and producing additional energy for night flying, to be stored in 400kg of lithium batteries. Low weight is essential and as well as nanotube reinforced polymers, it should be possible to make good use of Bayer's expertise with innovative adhesives, rigid foams and polycarbonate films and sheet for cockpit glazing.

The plan is to make the circumnavigation of the world in 25 days – five legs of five days each - in 2013, at an average speed of 70km/h. Two pilots will take turns in the single seat cockpit.

The prototype HB-SIA plane accomplished its inaugural 'flea hop' take off in December 2009. The round the world flight is to be undertaken by a second plane, constructed in the light of discoveries made in the course of building and testing the prototype.

Bertrand Piccard, initiator of Solar Impulse, says support from Bayer MaterialScience is a significant boost for the project. "I've always been fascinated by nanotechnology. Now, with Bayer MaterialScience as an official partner, we will be able to make our airplane even lighter and more efficient. We look forward with great enthusiasm to being able to tap into the company's renowned expertise and innovative materials."

André Borschberg, ceo of Solar Impulse adds: "Bayer MaterialScience's technology is a key to the success of the project, especially in developing innovative material solutions in order to reduce our energy consumption. We look forward to a productive collaboration with the experts from Germany."

Tom Shelley

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