Solar Impulse is the first airplane that can fly day and night without fuel. This revolutionary carbon-fiber plane has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and the weight of a small car. The 12,000 solar cells built into the wing provide four 10-HP electric motors with renewable energy. By day the solar cells recharge the plane’s 881-pound lithium batteries, which allow the plane to fly at night.

On June 3, 2013, Claude L. Michel and Francine Palmer of Solvay discussed this innovative solar-powered airplane and its mission through a video presentation and an interview with Michal Meyer, editor in chief of Chemical Heritage magazine. CHF livestreamed the conversation.

This event was made possible with generous support from Solvay. Solvay is a founding partner of the Solar Impulse consortium, providing special materials and expertise that optimize the aircraft’s energy chain and contribute to the plane’s innovative light yet sturdy structure.

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The topics below are based on the @ChemHeritage livetweet of the event. Click the timestamps to be taken to that area of content.

00:12 Bob Kenworthy describes CHF’s mission

3:00 Video retrospective of the #solarimpulse journey so far.

11:40 Claude Michel begins keynote

12:46 This plane was designed to carry a message about alternative, renewable energy

14:50 The value in a dream is to see it come true.

16:25 The difficulties of replacing oil

17:20 What one square meter represents for powering a plane

21:50 #solarimpulse had to balance the size of an Airbus, the weight of a car and power of a scooter

25:50 Chemical company Solvay knew from the beginning that #solarimpulse would be a “project of materials”

27:30 Materials of the plane

28:30 11 Solvay products 25 applications and 6000 parts were on board #solarimpulse

30:00 Bob Kenworthy welcomes Michal Meyer and Francine Palmer the stage for interview segment


Interview Topics from Michal Meyer:

31:15 The video you showed is a scientific romance; your website states that: “Solar Impulse is a unique adventure that aims to bring emotions back at the heart of scientific exploration.”

33:30 And, there is even a connection to Star Trek!: Jean Luc Picard was named after an aeronautical great uncle of one of the pilots, Bertrand Piccard. What is going on?

36:10 Solvay was one of the first partners to get involved in Solar Impulse, you joined in I think 2004, while the plane was nothing more than an idea. Wasn’t that risky?

38:15 The plane has been described as a “flying laboratory for clean technologies,” for “materials science, energy management and man machine interface.” What does “man machine interface” mean?

40:00 What technologies did you have to integrate for this particular project?

42:00 The idea of Energy sustainability is huge. As a practice, not so much. There have been too many promises that never arrived: hydrogen fuel cells, nuclear power, and of course, solar power. Piccard stated that “Our airplane is not designed to carry passengers, but to carry a message.” How do you make a message change the world?

52:00 Tell us more about the materials that went into the plane? Has the project produced any spinoffs in knowledge or technology that can be used elsewhere?

53:50 I’m curious about the Smart Fibers (Polyamide 66) which can be used in sports and cosmetics.

56:10 How high does the plane fly and how does it stay aloft

57:35 The limitation seems to be how long the pilot can remain in the air.

58:50 The elephant in the room is climate change. How are chemical companies tackling that?

01:00:45 Where is the pioneering spirit and political courage the film describes going to come from?

01:02:50 What do you do with the enthusiasm around this project beyond the around-the-world trip?

01:07:35 Q&A Begins

01:08:00 How was the project organized?

01:11:10 When do you determine the break-even point for this investment

01:13:05 How quiet is the plane? (Twitter)

01:13:40 What is the role of social media in the success of this project? (Twitter)

01:17:20 What were the unique challenges of #solarimpulse?

01:21:50 To what extent can the plane fly in adverse weather?

01:23:30 What’s the role of sodium bicarbonate in this project?

01:25:10 Have there been advancements in efficiency during the project?

01:29:00 Are we getting closer to individuals owning solar powered vehicles?

01:30:00 What’s your “science fiction” future?

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