PlanetSolar thinks big with solar boat

With what it calls the world's largest solar catamaran, unveiled Thursday in Germany, the PlanetSolar project plans a round-the-world tour in early 2011.

World's largest solar-powered yacht at its last build stage. PlanetSolar

A skipper's dream of sailing across the ocean using solar power is about to come true. More impressively, he'll be sailing on arguably the world's largest pollution-free yacht, the PlanetSolar, which was unveiled Thursday at the HDW Shipyard in Germany.

Raphael Domjan, the skipper and CEO of the PlanetSolar project, regards this event as a confirmation that "the solar-powered boat is now a reality." Since the '80s, Domjan has been dreaming of touring the world using the minimum amount of energy. He envisioned a solar-powered boat in 2004 and the PlanetSolar project has been in full swing since early 2008. Now he looks forward to the solar-powered around-the-world trip.

Designed by a team of international engineers, PlanetSolar is a multihull white catamaran topped by about 5,300 square feet of black photovoltaic solar panels consisting of some 38,000 of SunPower's next-generation cells. Each of the cells offers an efficiency of at least 22 percent--the highest-efficiency solar cells commercially available. The boat is expected to be both silent and clean.

The boat is slated to be ready for testing in late March and will be ready for its world tour in early 2011. According to SolarPlanet, the cost of the project is around $24 million.

Measuring 100 feet long by 50 feet wide, the yacht is designed to reach a top speed of around 15 knots (about 17 miles per hour) and has enough space for 50 passengers. It's expected to be the fastest solar boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to cross both the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

During this trip of some 25,000 miles, the boat will stop at major cities, including Hamburg, London, and Paris in Europe, New York and San Francisco in the U.S., and Singapore and Abu Dhabi. The solar boat will be available for public display during each of its stops.

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