Despite being one of the most oil-dependent nations in the world (or perhaps because of it), the UAE's Abu Dhabi has been chosen as the start, and finish, of a potentially world record setting flight around the world, in a plane completely powered by solar energy.
In our ever-growing global climate of natural resource scarcity and the resulting conflict, the implications of air-transit via solar energy alone could revolutionize the travel industry, and help to modernize the antiquated transportation standards that plague our Earth's diminishing supply of fossil fuels.
The aircraft, aptly named the Solar Impulse 2, comes as an upgraded version of last years Solar Impulse 1, a solar powered plane, piloted by Solar Impulse co-founders Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, which managed a non-stop trip across the continental United States. This time, though, they are upping the ante and attempting to circumnavigate the globe, a trip expected to take 4-5 months.
A partnership between the founders of Solar Impulse, Abu Dhabi, and Masdar - the country's premier renewable energy company - have come together in support of further innovation and forays into the far reaching applications of renewable energy, starting by funding a drastic redesign of battery energy density, and carbon fiber construction.
In order to successfully undertake such a massive goal, the new Solar Impulse 2 has been upgraded substantially to accommodate longer flight times, and more creature comforts for the pilots. The plane has been outfitted with a longer, lighter wingspan, stretching 72 meters, and weighing in at about 2,300 kilograms - the weight equivalent of a modern sedan (we're a car company ... we tend to gauge the size of items relative to cars!). The wings are equipped with 17,000 solar cells that power its 4 electric motors which are capable of generating and storing enough power to travel for 120 hours, non-stop.
The journey is slated to begin in March 2015, and will conclude late in the summer, as the craft makes short stops in a variety of locations including, India, Myanmar, China, the United States, Southern Europe, and Northern Africa.
The future of green energy sources is still up in the air, but a successful adventure around the world in a completely solar-powered aircraft has great potential to open doors to a world free from the binds of fossil fuel addiction. Until that day finally dawns, we can all pitch in to bolster renewable energy awareness by altering the way we live our daily lives to be more "green-conscious," especially in the ways we travel.
Next time you find yourself cruising through London, Paris, or wherever your curiosity finds you, try supporting sustainable travel by renting a hybrid or electric vehicle, or supporting locally sourced cuisine ... helpful steps which will move us toward a more peaceful, and long-lasting world.