After the hull was built, it was laminated with Teijin’s Tenax® carbon fiber to provide extra rigidity, protect against puncturing and supply strong mounting points for reinforcing areas like the metal A-frames of the suspension.
The underside of Solar Voyager was covered with woven Twaron® para-aramid fiber and an epoxy resin that provided protection against sharp ice. Van der Leeden says that the para-aramid is just one-fifth the weight of steel, but six times its tensile strength. In addition, it offers superior heat resistance and elastic modulus. “Carbon fiber provides tensile strength, but carbon fiber is vulnerable when it comes to side impact,” he says. “Twaron provides greater protection against side impact.”
Teijin designed the wheels using experimentation and early-stage testing validation to find the right approach. It developed two different designs, one very rigid and the other very supple. “We initially choose the rigid one and had to validate it in conditions similar to the Arctic conditions,” van der Leeden says. “This showed quite fast that it was not the right design for this vehicle. We changed it to the more supple design, and in the same conditions this proved to be the right design.” Nets made from Teijin’s Endumax®, a special ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), were an integral part of the wheel design, minimizing rolling resistance and maximizing traction. The material also helped soft inflated tires retain their dimensional stability.
The windows of the Solar Explorer were made from self-heating Panlite® polycarbonate (PC) resin, which is 200 times more resistant to impact than glass and half its weight, according to Teijin. The front windows absorbed infrared sunlight to maintain heat inside the vehicle. This wasn’t for passenger comfort – the ter Veldes wore heavy winter gear the entire time – but to prevent ice formation on the windows due to condensation of humid air inside the vehicle.
The ter Veldes carried the HexCore pieces of the Solar Voyager with them to South America and assembled the vehicle there. Although it was summer in Antarctica, their trip in the Solar Voyager wasn’t easy. Because the weather conditions were unusually dangerous, they were never able to make it to the South Pole. But the Solar Voyager, including all the Teijin materials and solutions, performed perfectly, says van der Leeden.
Once the ter Veldes completed their trip, they disassembled the Solar Voyager and returned home to The Netherlands. Although they never reached the South Pole, the couple felt they achieved their goals. They showed that solar-powered travel was possible even in the very difficult environment of Antarctica, and they demonstrated that everything, even waste plastic, can be reused.