Around the world to champion clean technologies
The flying laboratory
What freedom lies in flying – especially for those who dare to risk the impossible. The best example: the Solar Impulse mission. The solar aircraft that flew around the world without fuel. It demonstrated the tremendous potential for progress in the field of clean technologies. One example is the ultra-lightweight and insulating materials Covestro developed for the plane. The researchers are now analyzing the many new things they learned from their flying laboratory, because what those pioneers of the air achieved will benefit all people, even on the ground.
"Solar Impulse impressively shows how innovative materials contribute to fulfilling the visions of humanity."
Patrick Thomas, Covestro CEO

The next leg of the journey

Increased commitment to clean technologies

The successful 40,000-kilometer flight is a clear signal for a sustainable future. But it is just the beginning. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg – the two pioneers and pilots behind the solar aircraft – want to share their findings with global decision-makers and have established an international committee. On the new International Committee for Clean Technology (ICCT), they want to gather together leading figures in the field of clean energy. Their task is as far-reaching as it is challenging: To support governments, institutions and companies with independent and credible recommendations for energy policy.

All participants agree: Energy efficiency is profitable, because ecology and economy are not contradictory. Environmental protection is possible using the latest technologies, without people having to make any restrictions. At the same time, it can be a source for creating new jobs and selling products and services. This represents a new dimension in an ecological economy.

Covestro was a member of the Solar Impulse project from the outset and is now ICCT’s first partner. Because we are convinced that although the flight around the world is now complete, our journey to a brighter world is still moving full steam ahead.

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The continuing commitment of Covestro

Learning from the "Flying Laboratory"

How an airplane improves refrigerators

The new materials created for Solar Impulse help to improve many everyday products. The performance of the cockpit insulation, for example, is ten percent higher than the current standard, because the pores in the foam are 40 percent smaller. Covestro researchers managed this trick by reducing the size of the pores down to the micrometer scale. Another advantage: The polyurethane foam, with its very low density of less than 40 kilograms per cubic meter, is ultra-lightweight. The entire cockpit of the solar aircraft can be lifted with just one hand.

Solar Impulse Graphic

The project is also fueling new technologies on the ground. The new thermal insulation significantly improves the performance of refrigeration systems. Appliance manufacturers are highly interested in the new Baytherm® Microcell foam system to further enhance the energy efficiency of their refrigerators.

In a related area, a functioning cold chain is vital in developing countries, where only half of the food produced reaches consumers on average – the rest spoils.

Ultra-efficient insulating materials also protect buildings against high and low temperature weather. It helps to save the energy otherwise consumed by heating and cooling systems. Taking a look at the numbers illustrates how significant the effect can be: 40 percent of worldwide energy consumption is attributable to buildings. They also are responsible for about one-third of the climate-damaging greenhouse gases, such as CO2. Polyurethane foam is considered to be the best industrially available insulating material. Covestro develops and produces the components used to manufacture it. This insulating material saves 70 times more energy during its lifetime than is required for its production.

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Innovations based on Solar Impulse
Polyurethane products by Covestro

Covestro aligns its research projects with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. To make the world a brighter place.

High-end material for extreme cases

Solar Impulse – a milestone of technology

A virtually impossible mission: The solar aircraft had to be as lightweight and strong as possible to offset the weight of the lithium-ion batteries that powered the engines at night. At the same time, effective insulation was required to ensure the survival of the pilot inside the small cockpit, because extreme conditions prevailed on the journey: At night, temperatures could drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius outside, and skyrocket to plus 40 degrees during the day. This was the right job for the polyurethane and polycarbonate materials from Covestro, and they performed outstandingly.

  • The single-seat cockpit has no heating or air-conditioning system. The cockpit shell therefore is made of the extremely high-performance polyurethane insulating material Baytherm® Microcell, developed by Covestro. It is perfectly suited to making refrigerators even more efficient.

  • The cockpit glazing is made of the high-performance polycarbonate Makrolon®. This Covestro material is transparent, shatter-resistant, a good insulator and weighs much less than glass or metal. All reasons why developers are also increasingly using the material in the automotive industry.

  • The raw materials for the Solar Impulse’s silvery skin are also from Covestro. It covers large portions of the aircraft and protects its surface. Covestro also supplied the adhesive components that hold the textile fabric in place under the wings.

More information

Solar Impulse website
Solar Impulse videos
Solar Impulse on the Covestro website

More stories

Our commitment to clean technologies is only one of the areas in which Covestro is pushing boundaries. Follow the links and discover more about what we’re doing to make the world a brighter place!
Covestro helps to make wind power more economical.
Polycarbonates from Covestro take the design and efficiency of motor vehicles to a whole new level.
Covestro is transforming the climate killer CO2 into a useful raw material.
An overview of all highlight stories.
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