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Solar pioneers set sights on New York

The catamaran is to be the first solar boat to cross the Atlantic (sun21)

A team of Swiss solar power enthusiasts in Basel has launched its bid to cross the Atlantic Ocean to New York using a specially designed catamaran.

The organisers say the purpose of the exclusively solar-powered trip is to raise public awareness of environmentally friendly forms of energy consumption.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey sent the five-men crew on Sun21 on its way from the shores of the River Rhine on Monday.

"You are pioneers and ambassadors of Switzerland and your boat represents the spirit of sustainable development and competitiveness," she said at the launch.

Calmy-Rey also praised the project as a model which would help promote a key technology of the future.

The team is set to man the first motorized crossing of the Atlantic without using a drop of petrol.

The first stage of the journey will take the crew down the Rhine from Basel to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

From there it will travel to Seville in southern Spain, from where the 12,900-kilometre crossing of the Atlantic is scheduled to begin in November.

The trip is likely to grant the boat a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

New York in May

The catamaran aims to arrive in New York on May 8, 2007 via the Cape Verde islands, the Caribbean and Florida.

"The United States is the biggest energy consumer. We can only win the battle for a change in global energy policy if the US comes on board," skipper Michel Thonney told the Basler Zeitung newspaper.

Another reason New York was chosen as the final destination of the trip was because it is the headquarters of the United Nations.

"We want to win over the world community to the environment and renewable energy causes," Thonney added.

The boat, which is 14 metres long and six metres wide, is powered by 65 metres squared of solar panels on its roof. It is also equipped with batteries and electric motors.

The journey is funded by a private organisation, Transatlantic21, and is the third major Swiss project using solar power.

The renowned balloon pilot and psychiatrist, Bertrand Piccard, is planning a round-the-world trip in a solar-powered aircraft in 2011.

Another project involves a round-the-world trip in a boat which is fuelled by both solar power and hydrogen.

swissinfo

Solar-powered transport

The world's largest solar boat has been operating on Lake Biel since 2001 and transported 24,000 passengers.

Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard is developing a solar-powered aircraft in a bid to fly around the world. Test flights are planned for 2008.

The team Swisspirit won the World Solar Challenge competition in Australia in 1990 and 1996. The crew, which has been constructing solar-powered cars for 20 years, is also planning to take part in the event next year.

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