First round-the-world flight in a solar airplane

Bayer MaterialScience has become an official partner of the Solar Impulse project. Its founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are developing the first manned aircraft aiming to fly around the world day and night without fuel, propelled by solar energy only. The latest cutting-edge technology is incorporated into the prototype airplane, which has the wingspan of a large airliner (63.40 meters) and the weight of a midsize car (1.600 kilograms). Some 12,000 solar cells cover its surface to run 4 electrical engines and store the solar energy for the night in 400 kilograms of lithium batteries.

Bayer MaterialScience will support the Swiss-based Solar Impulse initiative with technical expertise, high-tech polymer materials and energy-saving lightweight products. Baytubes® carbon nanotubes from Bayer MaterialScience, for example, could increase battery performance and improve the strength of structural components while keeping their weight to a minimum. Other potential applications include innovative adhesives, polyurethane rigid foams for paneling in the cockpit and engine, and extremely thin yet break-resistant polycarbonate films and sheet for the cockpit glazing.

In December 2009, the prototype Solar Impulse HB-SIA accomplished its inaugural ‘flea hop’ take-off, a first milestone in the development of the project. Various flights including pioneering night flights are scheduled for this summer. After evaluating important data on the behavior of the aircraft, a second airplane will be designed and built with the objective of flying around the world in 25 days (5 legs of 5 days each) at an average speed of 70 km/h. Two pilots will take turns in the single seat cockpit. According to current plans, this flight is scheduled in 2013.

"We are delighted to be an official partner in this exciting project," says Patrick Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience. "Through our involvement we will have the unique opportunity to contribute our know-how and innovative new materials. This support underlines Bayer MaterialScience’s commitment and responsibility to a sustainable environment as well as contributing to the success of Solar Impulse’s great technological challenge."

Bertrand Piccard, Initiator of Solar Impulse, says support from Bayer MaterialScience is a significant boost for the project. "I’ve always been fascinated by nanotechnology. Now, with Bayer MaterialScience as an official partner, we will be able to make our airplane even lighter and more efficient. We look forward with great enthusiasm to being able to tap into the company’s renowned expertise and innovative materials."

André Borschberg, CEO of Solar Impulse adds: "Bayer MaterialScience’s technology is a key to the success of the project, especially in developing innovative material solutions in order to reduce our energy consumption. We look forward to a productive collaboration with the experts from Germany."

With 2009 sales of EUR 7.5 billion, Bayer MaterialScience is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and the sports and leisure industries. Bayer MaterialScience has 30 production sites around the globe and employed approximately 14,300 people at the end of 2009. Bayer MaterialScience is a Bayer Group company.

Solar Impulse’s project and core challenge entail flying an aircraft around the world, without fuel, entirely powered both day and night by solar energy. The goal is to demonstrate the huge potential of renewable energies and energy saving technologies. Therefore, the accent has been put on reducing energy consumption by using innovative construction methods and aerodynamic features never before realized. Solar Impulse is supported by, among others, the Solvay group, Omega, and Deutsche Bank, who are its Main Partners. Bayer MaterialScience and Altran are the project’s Official Partners. The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is the Official Scientific Partner and Dassault-Aviation is the aircraft design and production Consultant.