Google partnership with Solar Impulse reaches new heights

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Google this week announced a formal partnership with the team behind Solar Impulse, the solar aeroplane which arrived in New York in July after crossing the United States powered only by PV cells made by SunPower.

Google+ allowed followers to track the crew's progress across the US, starting from San Francisco in May where Google founder Larry Page visited the aircraft and met the crew at Moffat Field.

The Official Internet Technology Partnership formalises and expands Solar Impulse's usage of Google platforms including YouTube, Google+, Google Glass and Google Earth to communicate with its supporters ahead of the Swiss team's bid to circumnavigate the world in 2015. Google+ will be Solar Impulse’s preferred social media channel and Google Hangouts will be broadcast live during flight missions to bring the public closer to the pilots at www.google/+solarimpulse.

“During Larry Page's visit to Solar Impulse at Moffett Field last spring, we could sense his excitement and interest in our endeavour. We began to imagine all the things we could do together,” Solar Impulse said on its website.

“Financially, this is also an important milestone in our programme. It marks a new chapter and illustrates the interest raised worldwide by Solar Impulse as we have now a large US company joining our existing Swiss and European partners.”

Solar Impulse HB-SIA is now returning to Europe where the Swiss team has been working on HB-SIB, which will be tested in spring 2014 in preparation for a round-the-world flight between April and July 2015. HB-SIB requires the development of new materials and construction methods: electrolytes from Solvay that increase energy density of the batteries; nanotechnologies from Bayer MaterialScience and ultra-light carbon fibres.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA's 200 m2 wing area features 12,000 photovoltaic cells made by SunPower in the wings and horizontal stabilisers. SunPower's Maxeon solar cell technology was selected because the average thickness of its cells, at only 135 microns to keep the aircraft as light as possible, and its 22.7% efficiency. The solar cells will power the electrical engines, storing the excess solar energy for night flying in lithium batteries.

Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, co-founders of Solar Impulse, said: “This partnership is a unique occasion to promote mutually shared values like pioneering spirit, innovation, engineering excellence and clean technologies allowing to protect natural resources. With Google on board, our reach with the public, younger generations, media and political and business decision makers will be significantly enhanced.”

It is anticipated that the next generation plane HB-SIB will also use Sunpower cells.

“A pioneer in its field, SunPower represents the kind of partner we like to collaborate with to not only power the world's first manned solar aircraft, but to also spread our message on the benefits of renewable energy,” said Piccard on the announcement of the partnership in 2011.

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