Solar Powered Zeppelin? Actually, It's A Blimp

Call me crazy, but I think zeppelins have gotten a bad rap. Sure, the Hindenburg went up in flames rather spectacularly, and airplanes made slow-moving dirigibles all but obsolete after WWII. But I still love me some giant floating gas bags.

So this announcement that a team of French engineering and tech students have come up with solar-powered blimp that uses flexible solar cells gets me all giddy. Called Project Sol’R, the team hopes to cross the English Channel using their blimp, simply to prove that it can be done.

The 22 meter long blimp (about 72 feet) is made from nylon and polyurethane and covered front to back in semi-flexible solar cells. The great thing about a blimp’s natural shape is that it allows the panels to cover a large area in all directions; as long as the sun is out, there will be a solar cell to collect the energy. Oh and in case you were wondering, the difference between a blimp and a zeppelin is the rigid frame. Blimps lack a frame, making them lighter, while the zeppelin’s of yesteryear used large steel frames with bags full of hydrogen gas…hence why the Hindenburg went boom.

The solar cells generate 2.4 kilowats of power, driving a small motor which turns two small propellers. The Sol’R team estimates they make enough power to get a single person across the Channel. Project Sol’R is following in the footsteps of Louis Bleriot, the first person to ever cross the English Channel. He flew from Les Barraques, France to Dover, England in his self-named plane in 1909. Unlike Bleriot, who was competing for a 1,000 pound prize, Project Sol’R has no commerical or military plans for the blimp’s applications.

Well…why not? According to them, this blimp should make the entire trip without emitting any harmful pollutants what-so-ever. It can reach a maximum speed of 25 mph too, which while it isn’t Concorde jet fast, isn’t too shabby either. The Goodyear Blimp has a top speed of just 53 mph in zero-wind conditions and can usually cover about 300 miles in eight hours.

Project Sol’R could give all new meaning to the phrase, “Oh, the humanity!”

Sources: Wired | Project Sol’R

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.