Raphael Dinelli is plan­ning to fly across the At­lantic in a yet-to-be-built plane pow­ered by al­gae and so­lar power – but you too could have a green ad­ven­ture. Mike Peake de­scribes how


A group of French stu­dents have de­vel­oped a car that can travel more than 9,000 miles to the gal­lon. Over in Ger­many, boffins are tin­ker­ing with an elec­tric ve­hi­cle that they say will take them al­most 1,609km on a sin­gle charge. And a globe-trot­ting French yachts­man named Raphaël Dinelli has an­nounced his in­ten­tion to fly across the At­lantic on an as-yet-tobe-made aero­plane pow­ered by al­gae. If, as many people pre­dict, the end of the 20th and start of the 21st cen­turies will be re­mem­bered as the era when the world woke up to en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, it’s lit­tle won­der that mod­ern-day ad­ven­tur­ers are im­bu­ing their chal­lenges with a dis­tinctly green hue.

Af­ter all, why be re­mem­bered as some­one who set out to do some­thing mon­u­men­tal merely for per­sonal glory if your place in the his­tory books could be se­cured be­cause of in­fin­itely more planet- friendly rea­sons? In other words, if Christo­pher Columbus were to set off on a west­erly di­rec­tion with a fairly blank­ish-look­ing map to­day, wouldn’t he be do­ing so in a ship made of re­claimed tim­ber and a prom­ise to com­post all of his on­board waste for use on the gal­ley’s or­ganic veg­etable gar­den?

“I want to at­tempt what Charles Lind­bergh did in 1927, when he be­came the first pi­lot to fly non-stop across the At­lantic from New York to Paris in a sin­gle-seat, sin­gle-

en­gine pur­pose-built mono­plane. But I want to do this with­out a car­bon foot­print,” says Dinelli, whose re­cently an­nounced plans to hop from France to the US on a plant-pow­ered plane have bagged him a whole new wave of col­umn inches.

Dinelli is no stranger to the lime­light, hav­ing once com­peted in the Vendée Globe around-the­world sail­ing race as a “pirate” af­ter his late en­try was turned down by of­fi­cials. When his boat cap­sized, the charis­matic ad­ven­turer is said to have just whiled away time in his life raft as he waited for help.

Im­por­tantly, it is 45-year-old ad­ven­tur­ous Dinelli’s ex­pe­ri­ence of the seas – and specif­i­cally their re­cently chang­ing na­ture – that has prompted his lat­est chal­lenge.

“I have sailed across all the oceans,” he tells Fri­day, “and for sailors global warm­ing is a re­al­ity. When I en­tered my first Vendée Globe race in 1996, the only dan­ger in Antarc­tica was mon­i­tor­ing the growlers [small bits of sea ice] that risked caus­ing dam­age to the hull. Since 2004, in the same ar­eas, race or­gan­is­ers have sent us the po­si­tion of ice­bergs as large as a sta­dium.”

Seem­ingly un­de­terred by the fact that his es­capades thus far have been more Black­beard than Big­gles, he has spent the past 18 months learn­ing to fly, and he aims to be ready to take off next year.

To aid those all-im­por­tant green cre­den­tials, Dinelli’s light­weight, 750kg plane Eraole – de­signed by him and built by his team – will run on a com­bi­na­tion of so­lar power and a diesel en­gine pow­ered by oil ex­tracted from mi­cro-al­gae. He says this bio-en­ergy will leave no car­bon foot­print, and he hopes to show the avi­a­tion in­dus­try what might be pos­si­ble for the fu­ture.

“And I love chal­lenges!” he says. “I re­ally like the avi­a­tion pi­o­neers’ enthusiasm for test­ing their ma­chines de­spite the risks – and I like to be in­spired by these sen­sa­tions.”

In the decade that has passed since for­mer US Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore made the world sit up and lis­ten with his thought-pro­vok­ing doc­u­men­tary

An In­con­ve­nient Truth, which fo­cused on the eco­log­i­cal dam­age caused by in­dus­trial and do­mes­tic pol­lu­tion, the planet has changed con­sid­er­ably.

Per­haps the most en­vi­ron­men­tally sig­nif­i­cant decade in his­tory – or, if you’re a scep­tic, an out-and-out con in which cash-hun­gry ‘green’ businesses have been qui­etly chuck­ling at our col­lec­tive gulli­bil­ity – the past 10 years have seen a seis­mic shift in think­ing.

To­day there are eco fash­ion ini­tia­tives such as the Green Car­pet Chal­lenge (in which A-list de­sign­ers are asked to prop­a­gate sus­tain­able style); green con­ser­va­tion com­pe­ti­tions such as theWhit­ley Awards, which have been dubbed the Green Os­cars; and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ho­tels, one of the new­est be­ing the Novo­tel Dubai Al Bar­sha, with its eye-catch­ing hang­ing gar­dens. Even the world-fa­mous Wel­come To Las Ve­gas road sign is go­ing green. Once a bright, burn­ing in­tro­duc­tion to the world of ex­cess just be­yond it, as of this year it will be pow­ered by the sun.

One of the big­gest names on the eco block is the X Prize Or­gan­i­sa­tion (or XPRIZE as it is com­monly writ­ten), a global leader in big-money con­tests that have an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly out­look. Three years ago a US com­pany scooped a mil­lion dol­lars for com­ing up with a way to safely burn off spilled oil that floated like a black car­pet on top of the Gulf Of Mex­ico; cur­rent ini­tia­tives in de­vel­op­ment in­clude a ‘waste to wealth’ prize, which looks at ways to turn trash into re­us­able en­ergy, as well as a rather un­savoury (if in­ge­nious) one aimed at

com­ing up with a way to pu­rify urine so that it is safe to drink.

The XPRIZE or­gan­i­sa­tion has also com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing three new con­tests per­tain­ing to the world’s oceans by 2020 – and they’re look­ing for sug­ges­tions. “We be­lieve great ideas can come from any­where,” says Dr Peter H Dia­man­dis, chair­man and CEO of XPRIZE.

“We know crowd­sourc­ing has enor­mous po­ten­tial, so we’re invit­ing the pub­lic to help us hone in on the grand chal­lenges fac­ing our oceans.”

If the words of Dr Dia­man­dis and the pi­o­neer­ing spirit of Raphaël Dinelli have got you think­ing that some sort of green-pow­ered boat­ing trip across the At­lantic will win you fame and glory (and eco ku­dos by the buck­et­load), you’re seven years too late. A ves­sel called

Sun 21 did ex­actly that in May 2007. Fu­elled by the sun, it punted for al­most four months from the south of Spain to Mi­ami and is proof that even in green cir­cles, you need to pull out all the stops to bag a ‘first’.

Just such a chal­lenge has re­cently been em­braced by UAE univer­sity stu­dents who com­bined forces to try to cre­ate the fastest hy­brid-elec­tric car in the GCC. Prizes in­cluded awards for the speed­i­est ve­hi­cle and also the great­est dis­tance trav­elled on a sin­gle bat­tery; what is sur­pris­ing, per­haps, is that eco-chal­lenges of this na­ture have ac­tu­ally been go­ing on for decades.

Ev­ery two years the­World So­lar Chal­lenge takes place in Aus­tralia, in which teams from around the world are in­vited to sub­mit their pro­to­type ve­hi­cles for test­ing. It be­gan in 1982 when two ad­vo­cates of the thennew ‘so­lar pow­ered thing’ set out in a home-made so­lar car named Quiet

Achiever in an at­tempt to tra­verse Aus­tralia. The­World So­lar Chal­lenge was born five years later, and to­day con­tes­tants, us­ing no more than six square me­tres of so­lar pan­els, at­tempt to see how quickly their ve­hi­cles can cover a set dis­tance. Last Oc­to­ber a Dutch team put in the fastest time on the 3,000km jour­ney with an aver­age speed of 90kmh to win their fifth race in a row.

The quest to squeeze ev­ery last drop out of more ev­ery­day fu­els has been go­ing longer still, with en­gi­neers try­ing to work mir­a­cles out of petrol for more than 70 years.

In 1939, a group of Shell Oil em­ploy­ees in Illi­nois, US, made a bet amongst them­selves to see who could travel fur­thest on the same amount of fuel. The wa­ger even­tu­ally led to the cre­ation of the Shell Eco­marathon – one of the big­gest and long­est-run­ning green com­pe­ti­tions on the planet.

This year, three sep­a­rate events – in Manila, Rot­ter­dam and Hous­ton – will pit some of the finest minds in en­gi­neer­ing against each other as they bat­tle to get as far as they pos­si­bly can on a sin­gle litre of petrol (or its equiv­a­lent). The cur­rent record – set in 2005 in a hy­dro­gen-pow­ered car – stands at a mind-bog­gling 3,836km by Swiss Team ETH Zürich.

Not too far be­hind, how­ever, is French team Mi­cro­joule, based in the Loire Val­ley – and they use good old, reg­u­lar petrol. Hav­ing clocked up more than 2,900km on a sin­gle litre on a real street cir­cuit (on a test track it was north of 3,500km), they make the green cre­den­tials of the cur­rent crop of eco-friendly pro­duc­tion cars look laugh­able.

But you don’t have to rein­vent the wheel to en­ter into the spirit of eco chal­lenges. Your next hol­i­day could very eas­ily be an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ad­ven­ture, such as those of­fered by Canada’s Ea­gle Wing Tours, which prom­ises car­bon-neu­tral whale-watch­ing trips off the coast of Vic­to­ria. Or you could stand at Ever­est Base Camp and feel good about do­ing it the green­est way pos­si­ble by hook­ing up with Eco Trip Nepal. And then there’s the wellestab­lished Re­spon­si­ble Travel, who prom­ise, “Richer and more au­then­tic travel ex­pe­ri­ences that also ben­e­fit com­mu­ni­ties and con­ser­va­tion.”

But to re­ally make a dif­fer­ence, think big and take a leaf out of Dinelli’s book – or that of aris­to­cratic Bri­tish ad­ven­turer David de Roth­schild: his 2010 ‘Plastiki’ ex­pe­di­tion, in which he sailed a 60ft cata­ma­ran made out of 12,000 re­cy­cled plas­tic bot­tles across the Pa­cific, was de­signed to raise aware­ness of the junk that is be­ing left in the world’s oceans.

There’s even an app to get you started. It’s called EcoChal­lenge, it’s free, it’s made by some clever Ger­mans, and it prom­ises to give you new green chal­lenges each week – such as “cook a meal for your friends us­ing only lo­cally grown in­gre­di­ents”.

While it’s not quite up there with fly­ing to the moon in a card­board rocket pow­ered by the breath of a thou­sand bees, it’s a start – and who knows where it might lead? As Dinelli him­self says, “Life is an ad­ven­ture.”

He says, “As chil­dren we ex­plored our en­vi­ron­ment, we took risks, we tested, lis­tened, tasted and came to our own con­clu­sions.

“Ad­ven­ture is one of our last free spa­ces. No one can stop us from imag­in­ing, cre­at­ing and in­vent­ing. And it is an amaz­ing feel­ing to test yourself and say, ‘I can do it!’”

‘Ad­ven­ture is one of our last free spa­ces. No one can stop us from imag­in­ing and cre­at­ing’

A thirst for ad­ven­ture has seen Raphaël Dinelli strap him­self to a so­lar-pow­ered plane

EN­VI­RON­MENT Never shy of ad­ven­ture, Dinelli sails to the fin­ish line of the tran­satlan­tic solo race Route du Rhum

Could a plant-pow­ered plane take Dinelli around the world?

Bri­tain’s’ Mike Gold­ing, and France’s Dinelli and Anne Liardet be­fore the Vendée Globe race

A stranded Dinelli is helped from his life raft af­ter his boat cap­sized in the Vendée Globe race

Dinelli points out the so­lar-pow­ered pan­els that will make his trips plain sail­ing

A man on a mis­sion: Dinelli boards his yacht to take part in the Vendée Globe

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