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Solar Impulse’s prototype aircraft makes a landing in Geneva in September. The group has singled out Abu Dhabi as its potential partner.
Solar Impulse’s prototype aircraft makes a landing in Geneva in September. The group has singled out Abu Dhabi as its potential partner.

Solar flight project eyes UAE partnership

Swiss team is raising money in bid to pioneer sun-powered circumnavigation of the globe with a 26-hour test flight on a prototype single-seat aircraft.

PAYERNE, Switzerland // Solar Impulse, the Swiss adventure group planning to fly a solar-powered aircraft around the world, says it has raised US$80 million (Dh293.8m) for the venture and hopes to team up with academic institutions to obtain the remaining $35m it needs.

The founders of Solar Impulse, who are aiming to spread the message of renewable energy and creating ways to slow climate change, said they were open to hosting students and helping to transfer technology and know-how from the project to partnering institutions.

The Solar Impulse project has built one prototype single-seat aircraft that has the wingspan of a wide-body Airbus A340, the weight of a family saloon and the power of a scooter engine.

The aircraft completed a 26-hour test flight, proving that its solar-powered batteries could carry it through the night with a daytime charge.

A second, modified aircraft will be used for the round-the-world flight attempt, which will be carried out with two pilots, each operating the craft for 24 hours at a time before landing and switching pilots. The plan is to attempt the trip in about 2013 or 2014.

The project is working with one academic institution, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. But Dr Bertrand Piccard, the initiator and chairman of Solar Impulse, suggested that other institutions, as far away as East Asia and the Middle East, would be ideal to join the undertaking and spread technical know-how derived from the project.

Dr Piccard singled out Abu Dhabi as a potential partner during a media tour in Switzerland on Monday.

"Solar Impulse is absolutely open to make a joint venture with Abu Dhabi," he said, adding that he identified with the emirate's efforts with Masdar City, the multibillion-dollar carbon-neutral development on the outskirts of the capital.

"We have a lot of respect for what they have done there with Masdar and the spirit of Sheikh Zayed [the founding President of the UAE], and this pioneering spirit can be implemented also in Solar Impulse," he said.

Dr Piccard, who was a speaker at the Masdar Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January and comes from a family of aeronautical and nautical adventurers, said the project had a 10-year budget of $115m, of which it had so far raised $80m. Some of its largest technology and financial partners include Omega, Bayer MaterialScience and Deutsche Bank.

Dr Piccard identified the UAE's Higher Colleges of Technology and Masdar University as potential partners.

"What we would do is include the students into our team so they would learn everything we are doing, how we are doing it and they can bring this back to their country and also teach their colleagues," he said. "It could be so motivating."

Abu Dhabi's ambitions to build a knowledge-based economy have seen it previously sponsor Emirati students to NASA, the US space agency, in a programme funded by Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

igale@thenational.ae

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