MRO Magazine

Chemistry, Solvay Advanced Materials Enable SOLAR IMPULSE 2 to Fly Around the World


May 24, 2016
By Business Wire News

WASHINGTON

Lightweight and energy-efficient technologies that enable the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft to fly around the world, are commercially available today and already finding new uses in a wide range of industries, from automotive to consumer products to industrial applications.

That was the message among a panel of experts today who explained the complex chemistry behind the lightweight materials that comprise Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered aircraft now making its way across the United States on its ‘round the world voyage. Solar Impulse 2 is attempting to circumnavigate the globe without using a drop of fossil fuel. Its trek began in March, 2015, and is expected to continue to New York before crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a few weeks.

At a National Press Club briefing today co-hosted by the American Chemical Society and chemical producer Solvay, Dr. Rigoberto Advincula, professor in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering and Chemistry at Case Western Reserve University, explained how high-performance, lightweight materials are found in increasingly diverse applications, well beyond the “flying laboratory” of Solar Impulse 2. Industry refers to these products as “value-added,” he said. But in an academic or laboratory setting, “we call them discoveries.”

A nationally recognized expert on polymer chemistry, Dr. Advincula shared the program with George Corbin, global head of research and innovation at Solvay Specialty Polymers, a leading producer of advanced materials. Corbin explained how the science behind Solar Impulse “applies to the real world.” He described how advanced materials continue to displace heavier, less flexible materials such as metals and glass in demanding applications including medical implants and devices, energy exploration, photo-voltaics, batteries and consumer products.

Specialty polymers used on Solar Impulse 2 also have lubricant applications across a wide spectrum of industries, all intended to improve energy efficiency by reducing friction. “Chemistry can enable solutions for sustainability” and help to address worldwide challenges of energy efficiency and environmental preservation. “Consumers may not see it, yet these technologies surround us,” Corbin said.

Marc Doyle, vice president of research for Solvay’s Composite Materials business unit, described how lightweight, high-strength composites continue to displace metals on commercial aircraft—and in other industries. He easily held up a large automotive fender made of composites, to demonstrate how lightweight materials are increasingly chosen by automotive engineers to improve fuel efficiency while providing durability.

Far beyond Solar Impulse 2 and its historic mission, “anything that moves” is a candidate for improvement in lightweight materials and energy efficiency, Doyle said.

Solvay was the first, main partner of Solar Impulse with a history of more than 13 years of collaboration on the project. Claude Michel, Solvay’s Solar Impulse project manager since its inception, described how Solvay conducted research on more than 50 different product applications for Solar Impulse. In the end, 25 applications successfully qualified for use on board Solar Impulse, while others may still find applications outside of Solar Impulse.

“Solvay has contributed 15 products in those 25 applications and more than 6,000 parts of Solar Impulse 2,” he said. Counting the composites products that form key parts of the Solar Impulse frame, Solvay accounts for nearly 50 percent of the structure of Solar Impulse 2.

“None of these products were automatically chosen because of our sponsorship,” Michel explained. “All of them had to be qualified” to meet the exacting standards of the first solar-powered plane to circle the globe. “We are proud to be the first main partner and continue our active technological support of this amazing adventure.”

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With nearly 157,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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An international chemical and advanced materials company, Solvay assists its customers in innovating, developing and delivering high-value, sustainable products and solutions which consume less energy and reduce CO2 emissions, optimize the use of resources and improve the quality of life. Solvay serves diversified global end markets, including automotive and aerospace, consumer goods and healthcare, energy and environment, electricity and electronics, building and construction as well as industrial applications. Solvay is headquartered in Brussels with about 30,900 employees spread across 53 countries. It generated pro forma net sales of € 12.4 bn in 2015, with 90% made from activities where it ranks among the world’s top 3 players. Solvay SA (SOLB.BE) is listed on Euronext in Brussels and Paris (Bloomberg: SOLB:BB – Reuters: SOLB.BR).

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American Chemical Society
Joan Coyle, 202-872-6229