Solar Impulse – Around the world to champion clean technology

What freedom lies in flying – especially for those who dare to risk the impossible. One of the best examples is the Solar Impulse mission. Together, Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg set out to accomplish something seemingly impossible: Flying around the world without using a single drop of fuel. To help the flight team develop the lightweight technology and insulation needed to fly a zero-emissions aircraft around the world, Covestro was brought on board as a key technical partner.

Working with a cross-disciplinary team of scientists, lab technicians, engineers, and product developers, Covestro coordinated the material development for the Solar Impulse 2 mission. The final aircraft was powered by more than 17,000 solar cells that stored energy in batteries for night flying. With the wingspan of a Boeing 747, the solar-powered plane could fly at speeds of up to 40,000 km per hour.

A project 13 years in the making, Solar Impulse 2 completed its 40,000 km voyage around the world and safely landed in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg's solar-powered airplane not only demonstrates tremendous potential for clean energy progress, but also inspires future developments. Today, the insights gained from the solar-powered airplane have been analyzed and are now merged in a new project: 1,000 ideas for a sustainable future. Because what those pioneers of flight achieved can benefit all people, even on the ground.

Demonstrating that the future is now, by selecting and implementing 1,000 efficient and economical solutions

The flight around the world without fuel was just the start, demonstrating the capabilities of today’s efficient solutions. But what if the materials used in the airplane could be utilized in other market sectors around the world?

Covestro is one of the founding members of the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, supporting Piccard's initiative with its knowledge and solutions.

Since 2017, this question has driven Bertrand Piccard’s latest idea, under the name “World Alliance for Efficient Solutions” and its mission to select 1,000 efficient solutions. The idea is to promote innovative solutions by inviting individuals and organizations to submit their ideas to make the world more sustainable.

“Today, there are already thousands of marketable solutions that could promote economic growth and preserve nature at the same time. However, they are often hidden in start-ups or research laboratories,” says Bertrand Piccard, pilot of Solar Impulse and founder of the Alliance.

To date, the World Alliance, of which Covestro is a founding member, promotes more than 2,000 members with more than 600 expert-assessed and officially labeled solutions, proving that these solutions are ready for implementation. The Solar Impulse Foundation and its members are fully committed to reach 1,000 efficient solutions soon.

“We and Bertrand Piccard are both fueled by the same belief: solutions for a sustainable society are not just ecologically necessary but also make sense in terms of economics.”

Dr. Markus Steilemann

CEO of Covestro

Covestro’s growth is based on innovation driven by sustainability. With this in mind, we are supporting the initiative with experts who are assessing members’ solutions. We have also received labelled status for two of the future 1,000 efficient solutions – solar dryers and Insqin® – our examples on how environmentally friendly innovations can contribute to a brighter future.

For us, the Solar Impulse Foundation with its World Alliance, is demonstrating to policy makers the many ways that innovation is crucial to fight climate change.

From the sky into production: How an airplane improves refrigerators

The new materials created for the Solar Impulse 2 flight helped improve many everyday products.

The airplane's cockpit insulation, for example, had to perform ten percent better than the status quo. This was achieved by reducing the insulation foam pore size by 40 percent compared to previous standard. Simply put, the smaller the foam pore size the better the insulation performance. Another advantage: The developed polyurethane foam had an ultra-low density of less than 40 kilograms per cubic meter and was therefore ultra-lightweight. The entire cockpit of the solar-powered plane can be lifted with just one hand!

The Solar Impulse 2 flight also led into new technologies on the ground. The aircraft's thermal insulation significantly improved refrigeration systems. Appliance manufacturers are highly interested in the new Baytherm® Microcell foam system to further enhance the energy efficiency of their refrigerators.

Discover our optimized solutions for household appliances

Ultra-efficient insulating materials also protect buildings against high and low temperatures. They help to save the energy otherwise lost during heating and cooling of spaces. Taking a look at the numbers illustrates how significant the effect can be: 40 percent of worldwide energy consumption and about one third of the climate damaging gases emissions, such as CO2, can be attributed to buildings. Polyurethane foam is considered to be the best industrially available insulating material. Covestro develops and produces the components used to manufacture it. This insulating material saves 70 times more energy during its lifetime than is required for its production.

More information

Innovations based on Solar Impulse
Polyurethane products by Covestro

Covestro aligns its research projects with the 17 UN Sustainable
Development Goals to make the world a brighter place.

High-end material for extreme cases

A virtually impossible mission: The solar-powered aircraft had to be as lightweight and strong as possible to offset the weight of the lithium-ion batteries that powered the plane at night. At the same time, effective insulation was required to ensure the pilot inside the cockpit could survive the journey's extreme conditions. At night, temperatures could drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius outside and skyrocket to plus 40 degrees Celsius during the day. This was the right job for the polyurethane and polycarbonate materials from Covestro, and they performed outstandingly.

Clear view with polycarbonate

The cockpit glazing was made of the high-performance polycarbonate Makrolon®. This Covestro material is transparent, shatter resistant, a good insulator, and weighs much less than glass or metal. This polycarbonate used in the solar plane is also being increasingly used by the automotive industry today.

Perfect insulation with polyurethane

The single-seat cockpit had no heating or air-conditioning system. The cockpit shell was therefore made of the extremely high-performance polyurethane insulating material Baytherm® Microcell, developed by Covestro. The insulation is also perfectly suited to making refrigerators even more efficient.

Reliable skin protection

The raw materials for the Solar Impulse’s silvery skin are also from Covestro. It covers large portions of the aircraft and protects its surface. Covestro also supplied adhesive components that held the textile fabric in place under the wings.

What came next? – Today

The adventure is not over. Today, various solutions developed for the first flight around the world translated into raw materials and technologies applied around us in daily life. The Solar Impulse's achievements were and are still an opportunity to continue to the push boundaries of light-weight, fuel-efficient materials for solar power and beyond.

As solving climate change becomes an increasingly pressing issue, we are drawing inspiration from the solar-powered mission and continuing to invent game-changing technologies that make the impossible possible!

More Information

Solar Impulse website
Solar Impulse videos

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