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After the historic journey, Solar plane lands in Dayton, Ohio

The plane can climb to 28,000 feet (8,500 meters), but generally flies at lower altitudes at night to conserve energy.

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The Solar Impulse 2 airplane, flown by test pilot Markus Scherdel, flies off the coast of Oahu during a test flight from Kalaeloa Airfield in Kapolei, Hawaii, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
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By Chris Michaud

(Reuters) – An experimental airplane powered solely by energy from the sun landed in Ohio on Saturday night on the latest leg of its historic bid by pilots and developers to fly around the globe without a drop of fuel.

The single-seat Solar Impulse 2 aircraft arrived in Dayton shortly before 10 p.m. local time, some 17 hours after leaving Phoenix Goodyear Airport, the project team said on its official Twitter page.

 Close-up of a 1928 reconstruction of the first Wright Brothers' aircraft. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Close-up of a 1928 reconstruction of the first Wright Brothers’ aircraft. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“People told the Wright Brothers & us what we wanted to achieve was impossible,” said Bertrand Piccard after landing. “They were wrong!”

The locale was of special significance to the pilots, as the  home base to aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Amanda Wright Lane, a descendant of the brothers, neither of whom ever married, was on hand to welcome the flight.

With a wingspan exceeding that of a Boeing 747 but an ultra-light carbon-fiber skin and overall weight of a car, the Solar Impulse cruises at speeds ranging from only 34 to 62 miles per hour (55 to 100 kph).

The four engines of the propeller-driven aircraft are powered exclusively by energy collected from more than 17,000 solar cells built into its wings. Excess energy is stored in four batteries during daylight hours to keep the plane flying after dark.

The plane can climb to 28,000 feet (8,500 meters), but generally flies at lower altitudes at night to conserve energy.

Piccard and Andre Borschberg have been taking turns piloting the plane on each leg of the journey. Both have trained to stay alert for long stretches of time by practicing meditation and hypnosis.

Borschberg set a new endurance record for the longest non-stop solo flight last July during a 118-hour trans-Pacific crossing, over five days and five nights, from Japan to Hawaii. He also set new duration and distance records for solar-powered flight. Battery damage sustained during the crossing kept the aircraft grounded for nine months.

The Swiss team’s ultimate goal is to achieve the first round-the-world solar-powered flight, part of its campaign to bolster support for clean-energy technologies.

The team hopes eventually to complete its circumnavigation in Abu Dhabi, the starting point for the journey in March 2015.

The two men completed an earlier multi-flight crossing of the United States in a prototype of the solar plane in 2013 as a precursor to their globe-circling quest.
(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Steve Gorman)

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  • Pritam Go Green

    That’s great !!! Now even solar planes are being manufactured. We all collectively need to work in a positive direction so that the world becomes less dependent on non renewable sources of energy.

Next Story

Clean Water And Clean Power Through Algae

It’s an entire cycle where you’re dealing with not only a water pollution problem.

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biodiesel from microalgae
A biochemist shows different types of microalgae for the study and manufacture of a biofuel in high displacement diesel engines for reducing emissions of gases and particulate matter in Santiago, Chile. VOA

“Nature sometimes isn’t pretty,” said University of Maryland environmental scientist Peter May, grabbing a clump of slimy green-brown gunk.

That gunk lines the bottom of what’s called an algal turf scrubber at the Port of Baltimore. The meter-wide, shallow channel runs the length of a football field alongside one of the port’s giant parking lots.

“Actually, it’s always pretty,” May corrected himself. Even the gunk. Because that gunk is removing pollution from the Chesapeake Bay. Plus, May’s colleagues are turning it into clean, renewable electricity.

The Chesapeake needs the help.

Algal feast

Like many waterways around the world, the bay is polluted with excess nutrients from farm fertilizer runoff, city wastewater and other sources. Algae feast on those nutrients, triggering massive growth that chokes out other aquatic life. Last summer, algal growth left an average of 4.6 cubic kilometers of the bay without oxygen.

A third of the pollution reaching the bay literally falls out of the sky.

Fossil fuels burned in power plants, cars and elsewhere create nitrogen oxide air pollution, which ultimately ends up in the bay, either attached to airborne particles or dissolved in rainwater.

Forests would soak up that pollution. But like many urban areas, the Port of Baltimore has a pavement problem. There’s not a tree to be found at the entire 230-hectare Dundalk Marine Terminal, where the algae scrubber is located.

So regulators require the port to remove as much pollution from the bay as its parking lots allow in. That’s where the algal turf scrubber comes in.

Algae
Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. VOA

Putting algae to work

The scrubber is like “a controlled algal bloom on land,” May said, “which puts the algae to work pulling nutrients out of the water.”

The city of Durham, N.C., is planning to build another scrubber to clean up a local reservoir. A pilot study found it would cost about half as much as typical pollution control measures, such as constructed wetlands, and much less than retrofitting existing systems. Others are up and running in Florida.

The algal turf scrubber creates one big challenge, May said.

“What do we do with that algae? You have to have an end use or else you’re going to pile that algae up very quickly,” he said.

It’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s been turned into animal feed. It can be fermented into biofuels. Some of May’s colleagues have used it to launch a fertilizer business.

But here at the Port of Baltimore, they’re turning it into electricity.

Baltimore, Algae
Containers are unloaded from a ship at the Port of Baltimore, Oct. 24, 2016. The port uses an algae scrubber to remove pollution from the Chesapeake Bay. VOA

Digesting for power

May works with University of Maryland colleague Stephanie Lansing, an expert in a process called anaerobic digestion. It’s not much different from our own digestion.

“You have bacteria in your gut that break down food. We’re doing that same process in an anaerobic digester,” Lansing said. “We’re breaking down the material, and we’re producing energy in the process.”

In this case, the microbes digesting the algae produce methane biogas. The biogas runs a fuel cell.

“The fuel cell is actually a very efficient way to use the energy,” she said. This small, pilot system produces a modest amount of electricity.

Also Read: India’s Floating Solar Panel a Gateway To Clean Energy For Asia

“You can use it to charge batteries. You can use it for lights. You can use it for fans,” she added.

The Port of Baltimore plans to build a larger system that will cover about a third of a hectare, which could produce a few hundred kilowatts — still modest, but not bad, when you start with just polluted water and algae.

“It’s an entire cycle where you’re dealing with not only a water pollution problem, but an air pollution issue,” Lansing said. (VOA)