The First Ever Solo Traveller is to Cross Pacific from Chile to AUstralia on Solar-Powered Vessel

Russian voyager and survivalist Fedor Konyukhov is preparing for a new challenge – the first ever solo transpacific crossing by solar electric catamaran. The 9,000 nautical mile expedition from Chile to Australia is set to start in December 2021.

Image Credit: Hevel Energy Group

The serial adventurer will spend about 100 days alone in the ocean, covering about 3,000 nautical miles a month. The odyssey will start in Valparaiso (Chile) along the coast of South America, towards Lima (Peru) and then through French Polynesia all the way to Brisbane in Australia. 

Konyukhov’s vessel, a catamaran NOVA, is 11m long, 7m wide and able to reach speeds of 5-7 knots. The catamaran, which has a displacement of 2.2 tons, was designed by English racer and engineer Phil Morrison. Its hull is made of carbon-fiber composites. The craft is designed to break down into two hulls and four deck sections which together with ancillary equipment, launching and assembly, will fit into two 40ft containers.

“This latest project is the largest and most ambitious to date and, as is typical with Fedor, he had only a few simple demands. In this case to create a purely solar powered craft capable of ocean crossings which will hopefully produce a record-breaking achievement,” said Phil Morrison. Mr. Morrison added that further advantages of the catamaran platform are its great stability and low hydrodynamic resistance due to the long narrow hulls. “Each hull will have its own propeller and electric motor giving the added safety of two independent systems should one encounter a problem. Simple physics dictates that to maximise the daily distance it is more energy efficient to move constantly at a steady speed than to sprint in the day when the solar energy is available and stop at night due to lack of power. Hence the need for considerable battery storage to allow the craft to proceed 24 hours a day at a steady speed of 5 knots. I have allowed sufficient battery capacity to run the motors at standard power for 36 hours”, said Mr. Morrison.

The solar-powered transpacific crossing project is the result of close team collaboration and several solutions invented by Mikhail Lifshitz , ROTEC JSC General Designer, who developed methods to power sea and river vessels using electricity-supplied engines, solar panels and the albedo effect. Numerous essential parts, protected by patents filed by Mikhail Lifshitz, have also helped to make this odyssey possible. He has developed ways to manufacture flexible photoelectric modules and electrochemical cells batteries, as well as ways to control the operation of composite solid-state electrochemical DC sources.

The vessel is driven by electric motors and has no adverse effect on the ocean or atmosphere. In order to generate enough energy to supply the boat, the catamaran is equipped with PV modules with a total capacity of 11 kW covering an area of 66 m2 on the vessel. The sides of the hull will also carry panels, providing an additional 12m2 per side. Whilst these panels are not expected to be as efficient as the deck panels it is hoped they will gather valuable additional energy when the sun is low on the horizon and from light reflected off the water surface. The PV system consists of flexible heterojunction solar modules produced by Hevel Group, which has designed cells that are resistant to hostile environments, e.g., salt water and UV radiation.

The boat is equipped with an energy storage system designed by Enel X. The system relies on 26 Li-Fe-phosphate batteries to ensure a stable power supply for all onboard systems. Efficient management of the solar power, which could peak in excess of 5kW in ideal conditions, requires considerable advanced technology. Sophisticated MPPT charge controllers capable of adjust the current and voltage to maximize the charging potential, will be allied with a complex monitoring system allowing the craft to optimize the power obtained. In this respect Mr. Morrison has worked closely with Gary Scroggs, the Electrical Engineer at Rannoch Adventure, the company charged with completing this unusual craft.

Solar power is used not only to keep the vessel going, but also to guarantee the supply of fresh water, as the boat is equipped with a desalination system powered by solar-generated electricity.

During the voyage, Konuykhov will keep a video blog and monitor the plastic pollution of Pacific Ocean. The collected data will be further analyzed by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Mikhail Lifshitz , ROTEC JSC General Designer, said: “When we were thinking about the best way to test our products, we couldn’t have thought of a better option than the extreme conditions that our good old friend, the courageous and unstoppable adventurer Fedor Konuykhov, experiences during his world record expeditions. So, building a solar-powered vessel seemed ideal for that matter. I am really pleased to see how our technological ideas can find their application and serve as reliable solutions in such an ambitious challenge. Moreover, all the data collected during the transpacific crossing will be used in our “Albatross project” – the first non-stop solar powered flight around the world. I’ve no doubt that these are concrete steps toward a better carbon neutral future for transport”.

Oscar Konuykhov, the team leader of the expedition project, is excited about the capabilities of the vessel: “It can stay autonomous in the ocean for up to 6 months and go as far as needed, without any limitations. State-of-the-art technologies allow it to monitor the environment and take water samples automatically. Built with proven technologies, NOVA can run in dangerous environmental conditions, even in disaster areas”.

Hevel CEO, Igor Shakhray, said: “Fedor Konuykhov constantly challenges both himself and the limits of existing technologies. We are sure that such projects are an ideal way to demonstrate the capacities of solar power and push R&D even further. Aquatic applications of solar are evolving fast and I’m sure we will soon see commercial PV-based marine transport of all sizes. Solar-powered vessels represent the perfect kind of transport for delicate ecosystems, but in order to preserve the planet’s water resources we must treat every body of water as fragile”.

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