Achieving long-distance aviation with zero emissions is entirely feasible, as long as speed is not a priority.

Solar Airship One will soon complete a nonstop journey around the equator. It will travel approximately 40,000 km (25,000 miles) in 20 days.

This 151-m (495-ft)-long blimp will be equipped with solar film covering its entire upper surface, approximately 4,800 square meters (51,700 sq ft). This is equivalent to almost nine-tenths of an NFL football field.

During the day, the blimp’s electric propulsion systems will be powered by the solar panels. They’ll also generate surplus energy by converting water into hydrogen through electrolysis. During nighttime, the hydrogen will pass through a fuel cell, providing the necessary power to continue the journey.

The solar-powered blimp will be piloted by a three-member team consisting of former French astronaut Michel Tognini, paraplegic plane-crash survivor Dorine Bourneton, and serial adventurer Bertrand Piccard.

Piccard accomplished the first nonstop balloon circumnavigation in 1999. He also piloted the Solar Impulse 2 on its pioneering round-the-world solar flight, which lasted for almost 17 months.

The Euro Airship team anticipates an average speed of slightly over 83 km/h (52 mph). This is admittedly very slow –  less than a tenth of the average speed of a conventional airplane.

Nonetheless, blimps possess certain advantages over airplanes. For instance, blimps don’t require a runway to take off or land.

Blimps are also much more fuel-efficient. Airplanes need to burn fuel to remain in the sky, whereas blimps use helium instead. 

While projects like the AirYacht and the Airlander aim to revive blimps for luxury passenger travel, others view hydrogen-filled blimps as the future of zero-emissions cargo transportation.

Hydrogen-filled blimps hold the potential to transport 8-10 times the cargo of a conventional cargo plane, at a quarter of the cost. They can also travel at roughly 10 times the speed of a cargo ship.

The energy used by Solar Airship One is renewable. Its rigid structure consists of 15 separate compartments filled with a total of 50,000 cubic meters (1.77 million cubic feet) of helium. Interestingly, helium is the only element on Earth that cannot be replaced, as it escapes into space once released into the atmosphere.

According to New Atlas, the Euro Airship team will embark on its zero-carbon circumnavigation in 2026. The team will adhere to a route near the equator and maintain an altitude of approximately 6,000 m (19,700 ft).

Check out the teaser video for Solar Airship One below.

Image Source: ellectric,