Bayer MaterialScience is expanding its contribution to the Solar Impulse project - an unprecedented around-the-world flight powered solely by solar energy scheduled for take off in 2015.
The company specializes in high-performance materials and is responsible for the complete design of the cockpit shell of the second, improved model. Among its contributions will be an innovative, extremely high-performance insulating material. Solar Impulse and Bayer MaterialScience announced at a joint news conference in Payerne, Switzerland, that the new solar aircraft is expected to be completed in late 2013 and will conduct test flights the following year.
The first model will remain available for additional missions. "We are studying several possibilities and it could perhaps be making its first flights around the United States next year," announced Bertrand Piccard, the initiator and Chairman of the Swiss project that proves clean technologies are fully reliable allowing to drastically reduce energy consumption. So far the solar aircraft has completed flights in Europe and most recently to North Africa, in each case with materials from Bayer MaterialScience on board.
System leader for the cockpit
"We are now deepening our involvement as we go from materials supplier to system leader for the new cockpit," said Patrick Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Bayer MaterialScience. "The Bayer Cross will be displayed on the aircraft in the future as a visible symbol of our commitment to this excellent partnership."
Bayer MaterialScience is contributing a variety of products and solutions to ensure that the second, larger model of the futuristic aircraft will be lightweight, yet retain its rigidity. For example, because the cockpit cowl will be hinged for the first time, a section of it is being supported with a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic.
In addition, the innovative polyurethane foam Baytherm Microcell® will be used as insulation in places. It is being developed together with the chemical company Solvay for use in the new plane. The material offers significantly greater insulating performance than the current standard because Bayer researchers were able to shrink the pores in the foam by an additional 40 percent. Highly efficient insulation is particularly important for the aircraft because it must withstand temperature fluctuations between minus 50 degrees Celsius at night and plus 50 degrees during the day.
Carbon nanotubes on board
"The significantly larger size of the new cockpit shell and Solar Impulse’s tight weight budget meant that we had to further optimize the weight through design measures and targeted choice of materials," explained Martin Kreuter, Solar Impulse project manager at Bayer MaterialScience. Another innovation announced by Kreuter was the use of Baytubes® carbon nanotubes in carbon fiber-reinforced structural components in order to reach more savings both regarding material and weight.
"This will allow us to enlarge the wings of the new aircraft and increase the number of solar cells mounted on them," Kreuter said. The current model, which has the wingspan of an Airbus and weighs as much as a mid-size car, has 12,000 solar cells on its wings.
Solar Impulse CEO and cofounder André Borschberg says that work on the aircraft is already far advanced. "80 percent of the design phase and 50 percent of the construction phase have been completed."
The first manned around-the-world flight in a fuel-less aircraft is scheduled for take off in early 2015. The flight is expected to take 20 flight-days, with five to six needed just to cross the Pacific and two to three for the Atlantic crossing, according to Borschberg. Including the necessary breaks, the solar-powered aircraft’s journey from west to east will take a total of three to four months.