Solar plane embarks on round-the-world flight

Record-breaking attempt could show the way for a cleaner and more sustainable future of air travel

Solar Impulse Chairman, Bertrand Piccard, and CEO Andre Borschberg. The company plans to make travel more environmentally friendly through its solar-powered aircrafts

An aircraft fuelled entirely by solar power has taken off on the first leg of a groundbreaking trip around the world. The Solar Impulse 2, developed by a team of Swiss engineers, set off from Abu Dhabi early to its first stop in the Omani capital of Muscat.

The entire trip is scheduled to take five months and travel across the world, stopping in Myanmar, China, Hawaii, New York, and Europe. Piloted by Andre Borschberg, the single-seat jet will take around 12 hours to travel 400km to Muscat.

Solar power is fast becoming a key component of the world’s energy mix

While not exactly as fast as traditionally fuelled planes, the technology behind the Solar Impulse 2 offers a tantalising insight into the potential future of air travel. With the cost of powering passenger jets so high, alongside the pollution that the planes spew out into the atmosphere, solar powered flights could become an attractive alternative.

The Solar Impulse 2 has 17,000 solar cells installed across its wings, with lithium-ion batteries storing the energy for when the plane travels at night. The project’s chairman and co-pilot, Bertrand Piccard, told Al Jazeera this morning that climate change presented an opportunity to help create more sustainable forms of air travel. “We want to share our vision of a clean future. Climate change is a fantastic opportunity to bring in the market new green technologies that save energy, save natural resources of our planet, make profit, create jobs, and sustain growth.”

Solar power is fast becoming a key component of the world’s energy mix. Previously expensive and inefficient, prices of panels have plummeted in recent years, while they are expected to fall even further during the coming decade. According to a report by the International Energy Agency, solar could be the world’s dominant power source by 2050, surpassing coal and other polluting fossil fuels.

With the need to address climate change over the coming decades, the airline industry has faced considerable criticism over its emissions. However, as demand for air travel continues to increase, cleaner and sustainable methods of powering planes could help to bring down the impact on the environment.