Solar powered plane to circle the globe

While Boeing and Airbus scramble to make larger, more luxurious planes, others are pushing the envelope in different directions, attempting to find ways to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Take the Solar Impulse for instance. This plane is setting the bar high, with a plan to circumnavigate the globe completely under solar power.

The Solar Impulse is the brain child of Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss adventurer and environmentalist, who launched the project back in 2003 with the aim of promoting the use of renewable energy sources. Now, in 2009, he is closing in on that dream. His plane has a 200-foot wingspan which is lined with 12,000 photovoltaic solar cells that will draw energy from the sun to power its four engines.

Piccard unveiled the latest design for his plane on June 26th in a ceremony near Zurich. This prototype will undergo test flights in 2010, including night flights using solar power stored in batteries. In 2011 the next design of the plane will be completed, with 2012 set as the tentative start of its world tour. The fact that this plane can fly even at night is one of the the things that separates it from other solar powered aircraft in the past.

While we might be years away from solar power becoming commercially viable for flights, it is projects like these that are paving the way for the future of flight. A future that is clean and environmentally friendly.

A&K and Fairmont Earth Hour ideas will have tangible results

Earth Hour is on Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 PM. The hospitality and travel industry seems to have embraced this commitment to environmentalism. There are plenty of noteworthy initiatives out there intended to show support for a planet that could probably use our help. Of course, some are more interesting than others. I’m pretty interested in what’s going on at Abercrombie & Kent and Fairmont.

Upscale travel firm A&K is taking action at each of its 62 offices around the world. Outdoor signs will be turned off, and only emergency lighting will be used indoors. This will save 620 light-hours of electricity. And, they’re going to shut off the air conditioning for 90 minutes before the end of the work day, lowering power consumption for this period by 18 percent.

The company is also turning its corporate social responsibility gaze outward. Sanctuary Camps & Lodges are going to host stargazing parties, thanks to the dark skies. They are also planning to turn off generators and cut power consumption by 50 percent for Earth Hour (at 13 properties in Africa).

A&K’s Sun Boat III and Sun Boat IV will turn off their generators, as well, operating only with emergency lighting. Guests will be able to enjoy the bright stars – because of the desert air – in Upper Egypt. Eclipse in the Galapagos will host a presentation on the Sun Deck and reduce the use of power by 30 percent.And, the company hopes that Earth Hour goodwill is contagious. Employees have pledged to save 2,960 light-hours, and A&K’s suppliers, including restaurants and hotels, have been encouraged to support Earth Hour, with hundreds agreeing to do so.

I’m also pretty impressed with what Fairmont is doing for Earth Hour (which you can track via Twitter). This company’s made it a habit to stay out in front of the market when it comes to corporate social responsibility, and it’s ready to play from Dallas to Dubai – at all 56 properties. In addition to its usual environmentally sound initiatives, some Fairmont properties are taking specific, unique action.

At the Fairmont St. Andrews, guests can choose at check-in the power they want to use: nuclear, solar or wind. They’ll also receive compact fluorescent light bulbs. But, this is just the beginning. If you decide to sweat it out in the gym’s spin class, the energy you create will be converted to kilowatt hours to show just how much power you produce. The class is sponsored to provide a cash donation to the World Wildlife Fund. Kids will be able to plant their own saplings. The initiatives at the St. Andrews property are designed to have lasting results.

In Alberta, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will light up its side of the lake with ice luminaries. Guests will be invited to gather around a fire and enjoy some old-fashioned storytelling under the stars. This hotel is committed to Earth Hour year-round, with 50 percent of its power coming from a mix of wind and run-of-river electricity generation.

Over in Kenya, at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club, the lantern-lit Boma will be a place for guests to gather and listen to a local naturalist discuss conservation and the environment – the “Maasai” way. It won’t be just lectures, though, as Maasai dancers will provide entertainment.

The Fairmont Zanzibar, Tanzania will celebrate Earth Hour for the entire day. Guests will be invited to sail on historical dhows on clear Indian Ocean waters. Chef Ric and his team will use charcoal grills to prepare seafood on the beach, delighting palates without disrupting the environment.

Are you doing anything for Earth Hour? Let me know at tom.johansmeyer [at] or

Product review – Solio Magnesium edition hybrid battery charger

We’ve covered Solio before here on Gadling, so when they announced their most advanced charger ever, I just had to take it for a spin.

The new Solio Magnesium edition hybrid charger features a 3-panel solar charger. AC charging option and the ability to charge USB powered devices as well as any device covered by one of the thousands of options offered by the addition of iGo power tips.

The package comes very complete – the charger, an AC adapter with an assortment of international plugs, a female USB charging cable, an iGo charging cable, a bag full of iGo tips, a hemp carrying bag, and a pencil (more on the pencil later).

Before using the Solio, you bring its battery to 100% using the AC adapter, then when you are off the beaten path, and away from good old AC power, you give it a clear view of the sun, and it recharges itself. To charge your gadgets, you simply plug them into the miniUSB port on the side, using the female USB cable, or one of the included iGo tips. If none of the included tips fit your device, you can order the correct one from

So, how well does it work? I decided to use the Solio to keep my phone powered for a week, and it really did perform quite well.

On Sunday, I topped it up to 100% using the AC charger, and every night I’d charge my phone. In the morning, I placed it outside on a table. It was at that point I finally discovered what the pencil is for – it lifts the charger up to the right angle. Of course, had I actually sat down to read the manual, I would have known this all along.

Each night, I pressed the power button, and most nights, the green LED light would flash 5 times, an indication that the battery was back to 100%. Thanks to the power of the sun, I was keeping my phone going without any need for AC power.

The Solio magnesium edition is not cheap – at $169.95 I’d even say it is pretty expensive. But if you travel places where regular and reliable AC power is a luxury, it may be worth the money. The kit is very complete and once inside its carrying case, the entire package weighs just 9oz (265 grams), which is extremely light when you consider that includes the AC charger and an assortment of international plugs and power tips.

There are a couple of downsides to the Solio Magnesium Edition – to charge it, you need a lot of sun. The 2 times I had a cloudy day meant that the charger did not reach 100%, this isn’t a big issue if you travel to a nice sunny location, but don’t expect to generate a lot of power in places with less than decent weather.

Also, the device sometimes had a hard time powering my more hungry gadgets – an iPod or iPhone is just fine, but when I tried to top off my backup battery pack, nothing happened. The amount of power you can suck out of the Solio Magnesium edition is about 1800mAh, which is about enough for a 100% charge of an iPhone. If you completely drain the Solio, you’ll need at least 2-3 full sunny days to get it back to 100%.

The Solio Magnesium edition is available directly from Solio, or one of their retail partners.