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Solar Impulse 2 can fly continuously for 5 days

LoginRegister@indiatimesLoginRegister@indiatimes What is Solar Impulse 2?

Solar Impulse 2 is the name of the Swiss long-range experimental solar powered aircraft project as well as of the operational aircraft. The plane is designed to achieve the first round-the-world solar powered trip. The aircraft is capable of flying five consecutive day and nights without using any fuel. It started its journey to circumnavigate the globe this month from Abu Dhabi and is scheduled to return there in August, 2015. The more than 17,000 solar cells in the aircraft work with the four motorcycle-type engines and power the aircraft to fly at speeds of 36 kmph to 140 kmph.

Why is it an important scientific breakthrough?

Air traffic has witnessed a steady increase over the years. From 331.6 million passengers in 1971, the numbers have gone up to almost 3 billion in 2012. The increase is primarily linked to growing tourism, urbanisation and immigration. More than a billion people travelled as tourists in 2011. The rapid urbanisation and immigration will require faster and more efficient links between cities. All this will mean higher consumption of non-renewable aviation fuel and hence Solar Impulse -2, although experimental, is a major breakthrough, as it is the first aircraft to come close to a perpetual flight powered by a renewable source of energy.

How much oil is consumed by the aviation industry?

According to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC’s) world oil outlook 2014, the demand of the aviation sector in 2011 was 5.1 million barrels of oil equivalent (MBOE). A barrel equivalent of oil is approximately the energy released by burning about 159 litres of crude oil. The aviation sector accounts for about 6% of total oil consumption. In 2010, petrol accounted for 26% while diesel constituted 29% of total global oil consumption. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2006, aviation represented 11% of all transport energy use, which will increase to 19% by 2050. Various studies show that the increasing demand of aviation fuel is not only increasing the operational cost (by increasing fuel costs) but is also having a negative impact on the environment.

How is the aviation industry harming the environment?

According to the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, aviation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that a person’s return flight from London to New York has the same level of emissions as the average EU person heating their home for a year. A 2012 World Bank report on air transport and energy efficiency says that the aviation industry contributes to about 2% of overall global carbon dioxide emissions. The OECD also forecasts that carbon dioxide emissions from air transport, which was about 12% of all transport emissions, might go to 23% by 2050 if no measures are taken. Considering the dependence on fossil fuel as well as the emissions, the success of the experimental Solar Impulse-2 project might be the first step towards a clean, renewable and commercially viable aviation technology.

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