Chemistry, advanced materials enable Solar Impulse 2 to fly around the world

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 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 globe-circling 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 recently 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.”

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.

Solvay was the first, main partner of Solar Impulse with a history of more than 13 years of collaboration on the project. In the end, 25 applications successfully qualified for use on board Solar Impulse, while others may still find applications outside of Solar Impulse.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the US 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.

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.