Blanketed in over 17,000 photovoltaic cells, an aircraft called the Solar Impulse 2 spent 23 days in the air (across a 16-mo nth period) during its 17-leg journey. But this wasn’t any ordinary flight: by late-July 2016 this solar-powered plane had made history by completing the first fuel-free circumnavigation of the globe. For travellers like us Wanderlust-ers, lowering our carbon footprint has long been a concern. We seek out ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘green’ trips whenever we travel. So, now solar power is a viable op
tion for long-distance flights when can we expect to be boarding the first fuel-free flight? Not immediately according to Chris Goodall, author of The Switch: How Solar, Storage and New Tech Means Cheap Power For All The problem comes down to weight: “A solar battery is about 30 times heavier than jet fuel per unit of energy.”
That means that internally there is little room – the Solar Impulse 2 only had enough room for the pilot. But while we wait for technology to improve, grrener steps are being taken. “What we are seeing instead is the beginning of a transition to renewable jet fuels, made from wood or agricultural by-products,” explains Chris. If carbon-neutral flights are still some way off, other forms of transport are picking up the slack, with the arrival of Maglev trains across Asia and parts of Europe.
Powered by electricity, not oil, the train itself doesn’t emit any pollution. In Russia, Maglev engines are also being developed that will use 3% less energy than regular motors, while electric car pioneer Elon Musk has a rival solution: ‘Hyperloop’. This would see Maglev trains zip through solar-powered, low pressure tubes, helping tackle the issue of how green the electricity used actually is. And of course, hydrogen-powered vehicles are now coming off production lines -a more eco-friendly hire car perhaps? The future of travel is definitely greener but there’s ways you can do your bit now.
1.Stay in green accommodation – Before booking a stay, check out its eco credentials. Does it source local food? Does it have a recycling scheme or re-use water supplies? Answering ‘yes’ to either is a good start.
2.Slow travel – It’s obvious, but exploring a country by bike or on foot (or even via dugout canoe) is greener than taking a car. It will also allow you to delve further than a4x4 can reach…
3.Leave no trace – Adopt the ‘Leave No Trace’ philosophy wherever you go: stick to marked pathways, take your (and others) rubbish and leave a wilderness how you found it.
4.Local food sources – Wherever you head to, try to eat at restaurants that minimise their carbon footprint by sourcing all of their ingredients locally and responsibly – it’ll taste better, too.
5.Non-stop flights – Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but try to book a non-stop flight. They’re better for the environment (most emissions come during take-off and landing). You can also pay to offset your carbon emissions, donating to renewable energy or forestry projects.