Swiss solar powered oceanographic research ship Turanor PlanetSolar visits New York's Statue of Liberty 20th June 2013 - Hudson River



The 31 meter (100 ft) Planetsolar uses over 500 square meters of solar panels to generate 93 kW, which drive one of the two electric motors in each hull.  The boat's hull has been scale tested in wind tunnels and has been tank tested to determine the performance of the hull. 

The boat is registered in Switzerland and was financed by a German entrepreneur. Construction cost was reportedly €12.5 million. The name Tûranor comes from J.R.R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings, translating to "The Power of the Sun".



Raphael Domjan and Gérard d’Aboville


Turanor Planetsolar model design before build


Last year (2012), after it became the first solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe, the Turanor Planetsolar could have taken its 5,500 square feet of photovoltaic cells and eight tons of lithium-ion batteries and sailed off into the sunset. Instead it is becoming a scientific research ship, at least for the summer. The boat, a 100-foot, $17 million catamaran that was dreamed up by a Swiss eco-adventurer and bankrolled by a German businessman, will cruise the Gulf Stream studying the role of atmospheric aerosols and phytoplankton in regulating climate, under the direction of Martin Beniston, a climatologist at the University of Geneva. 


The research cruise, with five crew members and up to four researchers aboard, began in Miami several weeks ago and will stop in Newfoundland and Iceland as it tracks the northeasterly current. The voyage is expected to end in Bergen, Norway, in August. 


Last week, the boat stopped in New York City for a few days on its way north. The squat carbon-fiber craft, its wide and flat top deck dominated by the photovoltaic array, looked a bit out of place among the luxury yachts and other more conventional nautical playthings docked at a marina near the city’s financial district. 



Captain Gerard d'Aboville aboard the Turanor Planetsolar


Captain Gerard d'Aboville aboard the Turanor Planetsolar



In some ways the boat is suited to research. Being completely powered by the sun — the high-efficiency solar cells charge the batteries that power electric motors connected to the craft’s twin propellers — it produces no emissions of carbon dioxide or other gases that could contaminate air samples. And the boat has no problem going slowly, if necessary, as it samples the water — average speed is a sluggish five knots. 


“But clearly, it’s not a research vessel,” said Bastiaan Ibelings, a microbial ecologist at the University of Geneva who is working on the project. The catamaran had to be outfitted with research equipment, including a “ferrybox,” originally developed for ferries in the Baltic Sea, that constantly records the temperature, salinity and other characteristics of the water the boat is passing through. It also has a “biobox,” developed by the university’s applied physics department, which uses a laser to analyze the number and type of aerosols in air samples. 


The issue of ocean-generated aerosols — solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere that can have an impact through cloud formation, reflection of sunlight and other processes — is a relatively new one in climate science, Dr. Beniston said. “We suppose that the ocean must be a fairly large contributor” of aerosols through the action of waves and wind, he said, but their abundance and how different types are distributed are fairly unknown. “Their exact role is still open to question,” he said. 


The Gulf Stream is one of the most intensely studied ocean currents in the world, but Dr. Beniston’s plan is to examine some of its smaller-scale structures. These include eddies, swirling offshoots of the current (which, although they are smaller in scale than the entire Gulf Stream, can still be 200 miles or more in diameter). Eddies tend to have more upwelling of colder, deeper water than the Gulf Stream itself, so one goal is to see whether different water conditions produce different kinds of aerosols. With his plankton research, Dr. Ibelings wants to see whether the water conditions in eddies result in greater or less biological diversity than elsewhere. 



Capitaine du Planetsolar Gerard d'Aboville   



The modifications to the catamaran — which also included new propellers and some remodeling of living quarters to provide work space for the researchers — were undertaken at a French shipyard after the boat ended its 19-month, 37,000-mile circumnavigation in May 2012. That voyage was intended more to demonstrate the general capabilities of solar energy than the practicality of solar-powered ships. (After all, vessels powered efficiently by alternative energy have existed for centuries. They’re called sailboats.) 


“It’s an ambassador for solar energy,” said Gérard d’Aboville, Planetsolar’s current captain. “But I’d have to be crazy to say, let’s order 20 boats like this.” 

Besides issues of cost and speed, Planetsolar poses some unique challenges. In addition to wind, waves and current, Mr. d’Aboville must constantly consider the amount of sunlight hitting the photovoltaic cells, with the goal of keeping the batteries as charged as possible in case of a long stretch of cloudy weather. (They can power the boat for about 72 hours when fully charged.) 

He has a laptop computer on which he gets detailed, and constantly updated, maps from France’s national meteorological agency, Météo-France, showing the potential solar gain (calculated by taking into consideration cloud cover and other factors). If there’s a cloud on the horizon, he may decide to skirt it, figuring that he will gain more energy from the clearer skies than he’ll lose in making the detour. 

“I have this new parameter of the sun, and it makes life interesting,” he said. 

Original article by Henry Fountain


Planetsolar on the Hudson River, New York, USA

Turanor Planetsolar, a 100-foot catamaran with solar panels covering the flat top deck, made a stop in New York City as it followed the Gulf Stream. Imagine this boat with wind-gens and robotic capability.



The PlanetSolar is a solar-powered vessel built by Knierim Yachtbau, in Kiel, Germany for Switzerland-based PlanetSolar. It is the biggest solar boat ever built. The solar powered craft is topped by a large array of photovoltaic panels.

The boat has been designed to circumnavigate the world. It will become the first multi-hull vessel to sail around the world using solar energy. The voyage is scheduled to begin in 2011. A distance of more than 50,000km will be covered in 160 days at an average speed of 8kt. The boat will set sail from Marseilles and will cross the Atlantic Ocean, the Panama Canal, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal to join the Mediterranean.

PlanetSolar was christened and launched in March 2010. The solar boat made its first voyage off Kiel in April 2010. It will be stationed in the waters of the Baltic Sea to complete a test phase.



PlanetSolar specifications

The 31m long PlanetSolar has a beam of 15m (23m with flaps) and draft of 1.55m. The height above waterline is 6.10m.

The deadweight of the boat is 85t. It can sail at a maximum speed of 14kt. The boat can accommodate four crew and up to 50 personnel on its world voyage. "The solar boat made its first voyage off Kiel in April 2010."

The solar generator can produce peak power of 93.5kW. The efficiency is estimated at 18.8%.

Lithium Ion (NCA) batteries have the voltage of 388V and capacity of 2910Ah (485Ah / cell).

PlanetSolar design

The solar-powered boat was designed by Auckland-based naval architecture and yacht design company LOMOcean Design. The design phase included the successful comprehensive test programme involving towing tank tests in calm water and waves. The ship design incorporates a main hull featuring two hydrodynamic floats.

The top of the boat is surfaced with 127 photovoltaic modules covering 537m². The power generated by the modules is stored in Lithium Ion (NCA) batteries. The 648 cells installed in the boat weigh about 11t. The board battery banks have an efficiency of over 95% and deliver electricity to the electric motors in each demi-hull.




Swiss Rivendell Holding funded the construction of the boat amounting to €12.5m. The construction began in January 2009 at the shipyard Knierim Yachtbau in Kiel and took 14 months to complete.
"The top of the PlanetSolar is surfaced with 127 photovoltaic modules covering 537m²."

Around 100 personnel were involved in the shipbuilding. The boat is made of carbon-fibre epoxy sandwich materials. About 20.6t of steel, 11.5t of sandwich core and 23t of Epoxy Resin and Hardener are used in the construction.

The project is supported by the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Land Settlement.

The photovoltaic modules are supplied by Immo Ströher. Autodesk provided the technology to create 2D and 3D plans of the boat.


The solar-powered catamaran demonstrated highest efficiency during the towing tank tests conducted at the Australian Maritime College in calm water and waves. The wind tunnel tests also proved successful. The displacement during the circumnavigation will be 65t, further it will be increased to a displacement of 85t to serve as a luxury yacht.


The PlanetSolar is powered by four high-efficiency electrical permanent magnet synchronous motors driving five-bladed carbon fibre propellers through two drive shafts. Four motors develop a total power output of up to 176kW (239bhp), of which about 20kW per hour is consumed at cruising speed.

The backup power is utilised at night and during rains. The advanced lithium-ion batteries can store up to 1.3MW of solar energy under deck. The boat is equipped with a rudderless steering system. Each propeller supplied by AIR has a diameter of 2m and rotates at a maximum speed of 160rpm. 




Turanor Planetsolar solar panel specification   Turanor Planetsolar interior decks layout


The Turanor Planetsolar deck and interior layout - cost $17 million to build as a one off 




The Planetsolar undoubtedly sets a precedent for solar powered oceanography. The wings are deployed manually via conventional winches and ropes and the ship is captained by humans with an autopilot that they control.


The British 'Bluefish' contender is somewhat longer at 42.5 meters (140 ft) yet considerably lighter with just 300 meters of solar panels giving more than twice the power to weight ratio. The other key features are the deployment solar energy harvesting devices (panels, etc) robotically and fully autonomous navigation control options for hydrographic and oceanographic duties. The fact the Planetsolar is being deployed in such manner is proof of concept - except that the Bluefish consortium are aiming to extend that concept into the realms of fully robotic automation.







New York Times solar boat harnessed for research campaign to study the gulf stream





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The $Billion Dollar whale, adventure story with John Storm


The captain of a solar powered ship take on pirate whalers

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