All-Solar Vessel: "Ambassador for Clean Energy"

By Eric Haun
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Tûranor in New York’s Battery Park City Ferry Terminal

The world’s largest all-solar ship has been circumnavigating the globe since 2010. In May 2012, the vessel completed a 584-day, 37,000-mile global journey through three oceans and 11 seas with 52 stopovers in 28 countries. But most impressively, the vessel did it all without consuming any fuel.

Now on its second world tour, Switzerland’s MS Tûranor PlanetSolar is docked in New York’s Battery Park City Ferry Terminal where Maritime Reporter was given an opportunity to climb aboard the sun-powered vessel at a press event on Tuesday, June 18.

Tûranor, a 35-meter catamaran powered exclusively by solar energy, was designed by New Zealand firm Craig Loomes and was built in Kiel, Germany. Roughly 5,500 square feet of photovoltaic cells line the ship’s deck to power two 120kW engines—no fuel, no emissions.

Aptly named, Tûranor translates from Sindarin, J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented Elvish language from the Lord of the Rings, as power of the sun, but the ship looks more like something from space than anything from Middle Earth. Its strikingly futuristic three-hull design is sleek with movable solar panels that outstretch to resemble giant glistening wings, creating an aesthetic that fittingly parallels the advanced technologies it possesses.

While operators aboard ordinary vessels must monitor currents, wind and sea, an extra element is brought into play for the ship’s captain, Gerard d’Aboville: the sun. The catamaran’s floats contain 8.5 tons of lithium ion batteries which are capable of holding a charge for 72 hours, enabling the ship to sail through the night and under cloud cover. To keep the vessel moving at optimal efficiency, d’Aboville closely monitors Météo-France metrological reports on high-tech weather monitors to plan routes and determine throttle levels.

The ship reaches a top speed of 14 knots but usually cruises around five. The ship’s slow cruising speed is credited largely to its weight. Weighing in at a hefty 90 tons, Tûranor is by no means a light ship. But the designers’ goal was not to construct a fast boat, d’Aboville pointed out, but rather to build a ship with absolutely no exhaust or pollution of any kind. In that the ship succeeds.

Solar applications in the commercial shipping sector seem a long way off, d’Aboville said, but the innovative Tûranor is a good start. It is only a matter of time before more completely solar ships emerge.

The PlanetSolar crew will depart New York on Thursday, June 20 and head up the Gulf Stream as Tûranor continues its trans-Atlantic voyage that began in La Ciotat, France in Mach. The ship is scheduled to make stops in Boston, St. John’s and Reykjavik before ending its expedition in Bergen.

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