While technological innovations of the 19th Century opened up the possibility of rapid circumnavigation of the globe and inspired Jules Verne to pen his famous novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, Louis Palmer is hoping a race to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days in zero emission, electric powered cars will harness public interest and inspire new ways of thinking about mobility, cars and renewable energy solutions.

When the starting flag drops on August 15, 2010 in Geneva, contestants in the Zero Race will set off eastwards on a route that will take them a total distance of around 30,000 km (18,641 miles) through 20 countries, with stops in around 150 major cities along the way. This includes a visit to the United Nations World Climate Change Conference in Cancun at the end of November. The organizers expect the event to be completed in 80 days, excluding maritime crossings, finishing up in Geneva in January 2011.

Eligibility criteria

As the Zero Race is all about sustainable mobility and transport, competing vehicles mustn’t only be driven by an electric motor, the race teams must also produce their own electricity using renewable sources such as solar, wind, wave and/or geothermal. This electricity must be then fed into the grid system in the home country of each team, so that during the Zero Race, the equivalent can be harnessed to power the vehicles on their worldwide journey.

To be eligible for entry, competing vehicles must be able to drive at least 240 km (149 miles) at an average speed of at least 80 km/h (50 mph) and be able to reach a maximum distance of 450 km (280 miles) per day. The vehicles must also recharge in less than four hours and carry at least one passenger. Fully electric motorbikes will also be eligible to enter so long as they are able to travel a distance of at least 120 km (75 miles) on one battery charge.

Winning isn’t everything

Instead if the first past the post being named the winner of the Zero Race, entrants will also be judged according to a variety of performance criteria by experts in renewable energy and sustainable transport and mobility, while the general public will have input on design popularity.

These criteria include:

  • Reliability - based on vehicle performance assessed by the number of breakdowns or repairs needed during the Zero Race
  • Power and Speed - based on acceleration and range capacity to complete the Zero Race track (evaluation by a panel of race car drivers)
  • Energy efficiency - based on assessments by vehicle manufacturers and various other experts
  • Affordability of the vehicle for the general public
  • Safety - based on evaluations by transport engineers
  • Design Popularity - based on opinion polls by spectators and the general public along the way
  • The organizers say that there will be a prize-giving event for one of these criteria in a major city on every continent – although just how this is accomplished should be interesting given that the route bypasses Africa, Australia and Antarctica (and South America if that’s your choice of continental model). Anyway, there will be a winner for each category, and one overall Zero Race Winner following the completion of the entire round the world journey.

    Around the world in 17 months

    The Zero Race is the brainchild of Louis Palmer, the first man to
    circumnavigate the planet in a solar powered vehicle, known as the Solartaxi. At 17 months his 52,000km (32,000 mile) 2008 trip took a little longer than the 80 days he expects the Zero race entrants to take. Palmer estimated his trip in the Solartaxi reached the attention of 770 million people worldwide and, in his position as Tour Director he hopes the Zero Race will bring an awareness of practical solutions to global environmental problems to an even wider audience.

    People will be able to stay up to date with all the action of the race via an official daily blog that will also highlight interesting environmental projects along the Zero Race route. Each participating team will also maintain its own blog throughout the race.

    Driving Teams

    At the moment there are eight teams entered in the Zero Race, including a converted VW Beetle from Canada, a three-wheeler from down under and an electric motorbike from Switzerland. In the weeks leading up to the start of the race we’ll take a closer look at some of the entrants looking to take out the inaugural title.

    Anyone wishing to throw their electric-powered hat in the ring can still contact the Zero Race organizing team at the Zero Race website - that includes you, Phileas Fogg.

    View gallery - 5 images