Creators of a plane powered only by solar energy plan to fly it around the world, with help from Solvay and Bayer MaterialScience.
Still in the experimental stages, the Solar Impulse will soon begin a four-leg flight across the US.
Trial runs are helping developers make upgrades that will be used in a second aircraft for the attempted global flight in 2015.
The Solar Impulse team assembles components from around the world in a hangar at its base in Dübendorf, Switzerland.
Swiss polymer-matrix-composite specialist and boat builder Décision is building the structural components after major airframe makers passed on the opportunity. It developed a honeycomb structure, sandwiched between layers of carbon fibre, that encapsulates photovoltaic cells.
Schütz of Selters, Germany, provides Cormaster-brand honeycomb materials, and Toray Industries of Japan supplies the carbon fibre.
Kokam of Siheung, South Korea, manufactures lithium polymer batteries that need protection from minus 40° F temperature. Weighing a total of 882 pounds, the batteries are positioned in each of the engine gondolas, or nacelles, and in nearby wing structures to reduce the length of connecting cables.
Global solar innovator SunPower Corporation of San Jose, California, supplied 11,628 photovoltaic cells with 10,748 on the wing and 880 on the horizontal stabilizer. Each cell has a thickness of 150 microns. Solar Impulse strings the solar cells together and, via a layering process using ultrathin resins, protects them from ultraviolet rays.
Bayer MaterialScience in Leverkusen, Germany, has 30 people in polycarbonate and polyurethane technologies working exclusively on the Solar Impulse project. Bayer developed high-performance insulating PU materials that help shield the cockpit from radical temperature changes.
The single-seat aircraft has a wing span of 208 feet, comparable to a Boeing 747, weighs 3,527 pounds and is designed for an average flying speed of 43 miles per hour using four 10-horsepower engines.
About 90% of the structure is made with polymer-matrix-composite materials.