May 15, 2007 With the oil age slowly coming to an end, the key defining moment of the the 21st Century will likely be the human race's transition to renewable energy. And while we'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming from our dependance on fossil fuels, small groups of innovators are already paving the way toward the next step. In a giant leap towards unfuelled travel, a full-sized motorised catamaran, the "sun21," has just completed a leisurely crossing of the Atlantic ocean without consuming a drop of fuel. Stored solar energy powered the 5-man crew from Spain to the USA at a constant rate of 5-6 knots around the clock via electric engines. This is a major achievement - a reliable, long-distance, powered vehicle with zero fuel costs - and its successful journey hints at a cleaner, greener, cheaper future of transport.
"I spend many weeks each year on my yacht in the Caribbean hoping for good winds," said sun21 skipper Michael Thonney before the journey, "But on sun21 I'll be wanting lulls and plenty of sun." Commenced in 2004 and setting sail on December 3rd, 2006, the sun21 project silently motored into New York City at 3pm on May 8th, completing a 7,000 mile journey which included a non-stop 3,500 nautical mile Atlantic crossing in 52 days. It's the first time in history that a solar-powered vehicle has made the transatlantic crossing.
An equivalent journey undertaken on a diesel yacht would consume 3,744 litres of diesel - if there was some way to carry such a large amount of fuel. The sun21, by comparison, consumed nothing in its trip, instead harvesting around 2,000 kWh of emission-free solar energy. Half the solar power generated during the day was stored so the yacht could be continuously powered through the night, and the boat only dropped speed when the sky was overcast for extended periods of time.
The journey was conceived by Swiss shipbuilder Marc Wüst, manager of MW-Line. The building of the sun21 and trip expenses were funded by a group of idealistic individuals calling themselves the transatlantic21 Association.
The 12 tonne, 14 metre catamaran is based on the MW-LINE Aquabus C60, which is successfully being used as a tourist cruise boat in Europe. Twin electric motors produce 8kW each to push the boat to a maximum speed of 7 knots, or 5 knots on energy-conserving long-range night and day cruising - roughly equivalent to the speed of sailing yachts. Costing about US$575,000 to buy and prepare for the trip, the sun21 is now up for auction.
The sun21's successful arrival in New York coincided with the launch of the World Clean Energy Awards - an international platform created by the transatlantic21 Association to recognise the mainstreaming of clean energy in practice, as opposed to theoretical or drawing-board solutions.
“The transatlantic21 Association set out to showcase the power of clean energy," said skipper Michael Thonney, "It has been my distinct pleasure to be a part of the crew of sun21 and to prove we don’t need oil to cross oceans. In modern society, we can travel the world in a way that is both efficient and respectful to our environment and our resources. This has been a liberating journey and one which I believe will transform the way we approach travel on our oceans, seas and waterways.”
Having successfuly achieved this historic milestone, project initiator Marc Wüst is already planning a circunavigation of the globe in a similar boat. Congratulations to the transatlantic21 team on an inspirational journey and for proving that zero-emissions, unfuelled travel is a real possibility.