On Friday, the MS Turanor PlanetSolar, a futuristic-looking catamaran, entered into Monaco's Hercule Harbor, becoming the first vehicle to circumnavigate the globe with solar energy.
Swiss electrical engineer Raphael Domjan hatched what many believed to be a borderline-insane idea in 2004: to demonstrate what solar power was capable of by traveling around the world on a ship that would harness its energy. The journey was to be an adventure and a statement.
The solar-powered catamaran left Monaco over 19 months and 37,286 miles ago. In that time, the ship called on six continents, fended off pirates, and broke four Guinness world records.
The five-man PlanetSolar team traveled a primarily equatorial route to maximize their sunshine hours. Though they occasionally found themselves waiting for rays to recharge the ship's batteries, remarkably there were no major problems and no component of the ship ever failed.
The world's largest solar-powered boat crossed the Atlantic and Pacific, traversed the Panama and Suez canals, and stopped in Tangier, Miami, Brisbane, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Bombay, and countless places in between preaching the solar gospel.
The 115-foot Swiss-flagged catamaran took its time crossing the globe, allotting ample opportunities for the team to promote the importance of solar energy during layovers in 28 countries. Domjan, the expedition leader, echoed the message on Friday in Monaco.
We are extremely happy to have achieved this first world tour with solar energy, he told a crowd of well-wishers. We have shown that we have the technologies as well as the knowledge to become sustainable and safeguard our blue planet.
Rounding out the crew were French captains Erwann Le Rouzic and Patrick Marchesseau, German Bosun Jens Langwasser, and Swiss energy-management specialist Christian Ochsenbein.
The $10 million catamaran takes its name, Turanor, from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and means power of the sun. The roof of the ship is covered by wing-like SunPower Corp. panels that feed power to six blocks of lithium-ion batteries, while the hulls are comprised largely of lightweight carbon fiber. Four electric motors deliver silent, clean propulsion.
Immo Stroeher, a German solar energy pioneer and chief investor in the PlanetSolar project, said MS Turanor's arrival in Monaco is only the start. Stoeher lauded the ship as a green ambassador, saying we now have to take advantage of the fame of PlanetSolar in order to promote the use of solar energy.
It's unclear what will happen to the record-holding vessel next.
We are considering renting out the boat for scientific or commercial uses or even selling it, Stroeher told Wired. We are open for ideas and in talks with interested parties -- from the use as a 'green' luxury yacht to scientific usages and the utilization as the world's largest mobile solar power battery, everything is possible.
The New York Times reports that expedition leader Domjan plans to have a book and a film documentary ready by Sept. 27, two years to the day after the ship set sail from Monaco.
The monumental voyage demonstrated that fossil fuel-free alternatives other than sails exist to power ships across the sea as governments battle climate change by lowering carbon emissions. According to the WWF and Oxfam, shipping accounts for roughly 3 percent of all greenhouse gasses.