A television host and an engineer from Germany have completed an almost 5,000 km (3,107 mile) journey across Australia in their Wind Explorer, a lightweight electric vehicle powered by the wind – not only through electricity-generating wind turbines but also using kites. The pioneering 18-day trip by Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer set three world records – the first time a continent has been crossed be a wind-powered vehicle, the longest overall distance covered by an exclusively wind-powered land vehicle, and the longest distance covered by such a vehicle in 36 hours.
The Wind Explorer is a prototype electric vehicle weighing 200 kg (441 lb) including its battery pack. It is constructed primarily of ROHACELL sandwich carbon fiber over an aluminum frame and sports bicycle tires to reduce rolling resistance. Whenever conditions permitted, the vehicle’s 8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack was recharged overnight using a portable wind turbine that sits atop a six-meter (20 ft) telescopic bamboo mast – or via the grid when there was no wind. This allowed it to complete the 4,800 km (2,983 mile) journey on less than US$15 of electricity.
After setting out from Perth in Western Australia on January 21, 2011, and carrying out various tests, the Wind Explorer’s real journey began on January 26 when it left Albany, the southernmost point of the Australian mainland on the southern coast of Western Australia. For the first 800 km (497 miles), the vehicle was powered entirely by electric power.
Then, taking advantage of strong winds on the Nullarbor Plain, Gion and Simmerer were at times able to use kites to propel the vehicle. While one piloted the open topped vehicle, the other held tight to a large steerable kite similar to a parasail. As can be seen from the video below, this method wasn’t entirely smooth sailing but the vehicle was able to log hundreds of kilometers using kite power.
The trip took the Wind Explorer through the states of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on February 14. On the trip the vehicle reached speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph) – not quite as fast as the Greenbird land yacht but not too shabby. January 31 proved to be the Wind Explorer’s best daily performance when it covered 493 km (306 miles).
The journey is even more remarkable when you consider that Gion and Simmerer first came up with the idea for the trip last summer. Within a matter of weeks they were able to enlist the support of industry partners, most notably Essen-based Evonik Industries AG, which provided the materials for the Wind Explorer’s lightweight bodywork and lithium-ion batteries.
Although they received a lot of flat tires and blew two motors, Gion and Simmerer hope their record-breaking journey in the Wind Explorer will prove that the technology is already available to produce self-sufficient and environmentally sound transport.